What are eye floaters?
Eye floaters are those squiggles or spots you catch in your vision. They float about when you move your eyes and move away when you try to look at them.
Most floaters are small flecks of protein (collagen) found in the jelly-like substance inside your eyes (called the vitreous). The fibres of collagen start to clump and can cast tiny shadows on your retina. What you see are actually the shadows of these protein clumps – not the clumps themselves.
Eye floaters usually happen gradually. However, if there is a sudden increase in eye floaters, contact an eye specialist immediately. If you also see light flashes or lose your peripheral vision, emergency attention is required.
Causes of eye floaters
Eye floaters may be caused by the normal ageing process or as a result from other diseases or conditions, including:
- Age-related eye changes. As you age, the jelly-like substance filling your eyeballs (the vitreous humor) partially liquefies, causing it to shrink and pull away from the retina. As the vitreous shrinks and sags, it clumps and gets stringy. This debris blocks some of the light passing through the eye, casting tiny shadows on your retina that are seen as floaters.
- Inflammation in the back of the eye. Posterior uveitis is inflammation in the layers of the uvea in the back of the eye. This condition can cause the release of inflammatory debris into the vitreous that are seen as floaters.
- Bleeding in the eye. Bleeding into the vitreous can have many causes, including diabetes, hypertension, blocked blood vessels and injury. Blood cells are seen as floaters.
- Torn retina. Also known as a retinal detachment. Untreated retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss.
Factors that can increase your risk of floaters include:
- Floaters are more common in those over 50
- Eye trauma
- Complications from cataract surgery
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Eye inflammation
Treating eye floaters
Most eye floaters don't require treatment. Eye floaters can be frustrating, and adjusting to them can take time. Once you know they won’t cause problems, you may be able to ignore them or notice them less often.
If your eye floaters impair your vision, which happens rarely, you and your eye doctor may consider treatment. Options may include surgery to remove some or all of the vitreous or in select cases a laser may be used.
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