What are these 'floaters' I see in my eyes?
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What are these 'floaters' I see in my eyes?

The spots, strings, or cobwebs that drift in and out of your vision are called “floaters,” and they are more prominent if you’re looking against a white background.

These floaters are tiny clumps of material floating inside the vitreous (jelly-like substance) that fills the inside of your eye. Floaters cast a shadow on the retina, which is the inner lining of the back of the eye that relays images to the brain.

As you get older, the vitreous gel pulls away from the retina and the traction on the retina causes flashing lights. These flashes can then occur for months. Once the vitreous gel completely separates from the back wall of the eye, you then have a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), which is a common cause of new onset of floaters.

This condition is more common in people who:

  • Are nearsighted.
  • Are aphakic (absence of the lens of the eye).
  • Have past trauma to the eye.
  • Have had inflammation in the eye.

When a posterior vitreous detachment occurs, there is a concern that it can cause a retinal tear.

Symptoms of a retinal tear include:

  • Sudden increase in number of floaters that are persistent and don't resolve.
  • Increase in flashes.
  • A shadow covering your side vision, or a decrease in vision.

In general, posterior vitreous detachment is unlikely to progress to a retinal detachment. Only about 15 percent of people with PVD develop a retinal tear.

If left untreated, approximately 40 percent of people with a symptomatic retinal tear will progress into a retinal detachment – and a retinal detachment needs prompt treatment to prevent vision loss.

Generally, most people become accustomed to the floaters in their eyes.

Surgery can be performed to remove the vitreous gel but there is no guarantee that all the floaters will be removed. And for most people, the risk of surgery is greater than the nuisance that the floaters present.

Similarly, there is a laser procedure that breaks the floaters up into smaller pieces in hopes of making them less noticeable. However, this is not a recognized standard treatment and it is not widely practiced.

In general, the usual recommendation for floaters and PVD is observation by an eye care specialist.

 

Article contributed by Jane Pan M.D.

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