Do you sometimes see tiny specks in your field of vision? Do they look like tiny bugs or dots drifting around? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then you are experiencing floaters.
The medical name for floaters is Muscae Volitantes which is Latin for flying flies.
Floaters are irritating interruptions to clear vision and are very common. Read on to find out more about what they are, what might be causing them, what you can do about them, and whether or not you need to be worried by their presence.
What are floaters?
Although they look like they are floating in front of your eye, floaters are actually tiny clumps or bits of debris within your eye. They are actually moving around within the vitreous, which is the clear jelly-like substance that fills the main eye cavity, and are affecting the retina.
The highly important retina is the thin layer at the back of the eye which receives light focused by the eye’s lens. The retina converts the light into signals to the brain which translates these into visual recognition. Any debris floating around in the vitreous jelly will cast shadows on the retina and interrupt clear vision. This is what is happening when you get floaters.
Why do I get them?
There are several possible explanations for floaters.
Through the natural process of aging, the vitreous jelly in the eye deteriorates. Tiny clumps or strands can form. Floaters can be a sign of posterior vitreous detachment. This is an eye condition where the vitreous jelly becomes more liquid and begins to come away from the retina. This is a common problem that largely affects those over 50 as well as greater numbers of nearsighted people.
Those patients who have undergone eye surgery are also more likely to suffer from floaters. Accidental trauma or inflammation of the eye can also be a cause of floaters.
Less often, a new group of floaters may be a sign of a detaching retina. Sometimes degenerating vitreous jelly can tear the retina as it moves away. This can become more serious if the retina begins to detach from the back of the eye.
Should I see an eye doctor?
More often than not, floaters are harmless and are not usually a cause for alarm. In many cases, they are just a natural part of the aging process. However, because there is a small chance they may be associated with something more serious, you should seek advice from an eye doctor if you begin to experience floaters. They will do a complete eye exam, check your vitreous and retina, and advise you of the cause of your floaters.
As well as any sudden onset of floaters, an increase in their numbers should be taken seriously, too. In either situation, you should seek advice from your ophthalmologist promptly. If your floaters are accompanied by the loss of peripheral or side vision, this is more worrying, as it may be a sign of a detaching retina. You should attend an eye examination without delay.
Torn or damaged retinas can usually be treated with laser treatment or surgery before the damage becomes more serious. Prompt treatment should prevent the whole retina from coming away. A fully detached retina is very difficult to treat and can lead to permanent vision loss. This is why you must see your eye doctor straight away at any indication of a detached retina.
You should be seeing your eye doctor to get regular eye check-ups and the presence of floaters is one symptom they would want to monitor. Usually, your eye doctor will be able to reassure you that they are harmless each time you visit.
What can I do about my floaters?
Sadly, although they are highly irritating, there is usually no treatment or cure for floaters. Most patients find that their floaters usually diminish eventually.
There is a trick you can try for yourself that may help. Try moving your eye around, particularly up and down. This can cause the fluid inside your eye to swirl around which may dislodge the floater. This is definitely worth trying if your floater is in your direct line of vision. However, if it isn’t, you do risk moving the floater into a worse position.
What about flashes of light?
Flashes of light are usually caused by the rubbing together of the retina and the vitreous. Like floaters, they are not usually a cause for concern and are also associated with the aging process. They may appear on and off for several weeks before disappearing. Flashes of light are also sometimes associated with migraines.
However, if the flashes of lights are accompanied by a sudden onset or increase of floaters, this is more cause for concern. You should seek advice from an ophthalmologist who would want to rule out the possibility of retinal detachment.
Your eye health is hugely important. Never let problems or irritations go unchecked. If you are worried about any aspect of your vision, including floaters and flashers, always seek advice. The best eye doctors will happily reassure you or advise you on a course of treatment, depending on what they find during your eye exam.
Dr. Millicent M. Grim, Specialist Ophthalmologist & LASIK Specialist, is the Medical Director of Gulf Eye Center in Dubai. Since 2002, Gulf Eye Center’s highly qualified ophthalmologists and optometrists/ODs have been successfully treating a wide range of eye conditions using advanced techniques. They also provide comprehensive eye care and vision restoration procedures for people of all ages.