Floaters is a term used to describe a common visual phenomenon that many adults experience at some point. In our Ocala office, many patients ask what these visual apparitions are and if they should be concerned. Here, we discuss some of the typical questions that patients have about this condition.
What are eye floaters?
Floaters is an accurate term to use for this ocular event because the presentation is of one or more dots floating across the field of vision. A person may see floaters when looking at a relatively blank visual field, such as the sky or a wall. Sometimes, floaters appear when a person is working at their computer. There is no rhyme or reason to the onset of floaters or how often they occur, but they tend to follow a similar pattern of movement across the eye. When one tries to “look at” floaters, they usually disappear.
What causes floaters in the eye?
Technically, floaters are shadows. The majority of the eye is made up of what we call vitreous, a gelatinous substance that fills space in between the front of the eye and the back. As we age, the gel-like vitreous becomes more fluid, like water. When this change occurs, tiny particles of protein float through the matter. These molecules may clump together and, as they float through the watery vitreous, they cast shadows on the retina at the back of the eye.
Are floaters dangerous?
Typically, the shadows cast by proteins in the vitreous are just that: shadows. They are generally not concerning and, in many cases, clear up over time. However, there are characteristics that may indicate a more serious problem related to floaters.
The vitreous at the centermost part of the eye is attached to the retina that sits at the back of the eye. When the vitreous changes consistency, it may pull on the retina. Though relatively uncommon, a tear may develop due to this pulling. Even more uncommon is an event called retinal detachment, in which the retina separates from the back wall of the eye.
In the case of retinal tear or detachment, floaters may be a primary indicator of the event. Different than the floaters that come and go periodically, though, the floaters that appear with a retinal tear tend to occur suddenly and intensely. If floaters appear in this way, immediate medical care is needed.
Floaters should not be a cause for concern. With routine eye exams in our Ocala office, it becomes much easier to know your risk for retinal tear or detachment, as well as the signs of one or the other of these problems.
Have you had your eye exam in the last year? Call (352) 237-8400 to schedule a visit at Central Florida Eye Institute.