Why Are There Weird Things Floating in My Eyes?
Have you ever been staring out at a bright sky or a blank wall and noticed something moving around in front of your eye? Thousands of people around the world see small flecks floating right in front of their eyes. Many times, people don’t stop to think about what these flecks might be – they think these are insects or stray eyelashes. In reality, these flecks are tiny floaters drifting around the inside of your eye. Mostly, these floaters are completely harmless, even though the thought of having something floating in your eye may sound strange and scary.
So what exactly is a floater?
What we call ‘floaters’ are generally a small accumulation of tissue that has detached from the light sensitive tissue — the retina — in the back of the eye. As we age, the gel-like material in the eye — the vitreous — tends to shrink. As it does, it can tug on the retina, causing a small bit to detach. This process is called a vitreous detachment. Unlike a retinal detachment, a vitreous detachment is common and typically is not cause for alarm.
Most often, people report seeing a floater when looking at a bright or light-colored surface, such as the sky or a wall. You won’t actually be able to see tiny bits of debris floating loose within your eye. Instead, shadows from these floaters are cast on the retina as light passes through the eye, and those tiny shadows are what you see. They generally appear to dart away when you try to focus on them. Eye floaters can appear in many different shapes, such as: Black or gray dots, Squiggly lines, Threadlike strands which can be knobby and semi-transparent, Cobwebs, or Ring shaped. Although floaters appear in many shapes and colors, most are generally dark in color (black or brown) and round or string-like in shape.
So who gets these floaters?
Most floaters occur in people between 45 and 75 years of age, simply because vitreous detachment is generally part of the aging process. This means a person may see one or more floaters over the course of his lifetime. Floaters also occur in some younger people who are extremely nearsighted, have experienced a traumatic eye injury or have undergone eye surgery. In addition, a unique form of eye floaters is associated with the visual aura of migraine headaches. Certain types of migraine headaches can be associated with scintillating, kaleidoscope-type visual patterns with some apparent movement but these do not really resemble the spider web floaters and flashbulb type “flashes” seen with vitreous and retinal conditions.
Should I be worried if I am experiencing a floater?
There are some occasions, though rare, where floaters can indicate something more than just an age-related vitreous detachment. You should seek immediate medical attention if you notice a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters, or if you are experiencing eye pain along with the floaters. Another indication of something more serious is if floaters are accompanied by flashes of light — often reported as lightning strikes in a person’s peripheral vision — this could be a sign of a retinal detachment. Some research has shown that up to 50 percent of people with a retinal tear will subsequently develop a detachment of the retina, which could lead to significant vision loss. In cases of retinal tear or detachment, treatment must occur as soon as possible so that an eye surgeon can reattach the retina and restore function before vision is lost permanently. Floaters with a web-like shape could indicate bleeding in the eye. In either of these situations, seek the advice of a medical eye professional immediately to prevent any loss of vision.
Is there a treatment for floaters?
Most of the time people learn to live with eye floaters and ignore them. Benign eye floaters almost never require medical treatment.
If they are bothersome, you can move them away from your field of vision by moving your eyes. This maneuver shifts the fluid in your eyes. Looking up and down is usually more effective than looking from side to side.
Over time, gravity pulls the annoying flecks from a person’s vision and settles them into the lower portions of the eye where they are less noticeable. Small floaters resulting from vitreous detachment are generally not treated and never completely disappear. Only rarely do benign eye floaters become bothersome enough to consider treatment. In extreme cases, larger floaters that cause visual disturbances can be treated with a laser procedure. An ophthalmologist determines the necessity of this treatment on a case-by-case basis. If the floaters are a result of a larger problem, such as a retinal detachment or hemorrhage, surgery for the underlying problem is preformed. Occasionally the floaters are removed during that process.
In the majority of cases, these floaters are harmless. However, there is always the chance that they are caused by something that could damage your vision. If you are experiencing this phenomenon and are worried it might be something more serious, a dilated eye exam lets us determine the cause of your floaters and most probably provide you with peace of mind.