A very common concern when visiting the eye doctor is the appearance of ‘floaters’. They are characterized by those little flecks that seem to dance around in your eye, despite nothing being there when you look in the mirror. Or they could be little spots that move and dart out of sight when you direct your vision to them. The good news is these pesky ‘floaters’ are completely normal and are usually benign.
The formal name for this condition is “Vitreous Syneresis” and this article will focus on what they are, why we see them, and when you should contact your Optometrist.
Our eye is made up of many parts, but in the interest of floaters we will be exploring the vitreous gel, optic nerve, and retina. The vitreous gel attaches to both the optic nerve and the retina at the front of the eye on the anterior edge of the retina. For some people, the vitreous gel remains attached to these two areas for life, but for most people, those tiny fibers can detach and or bond together over time. These microscopic clumps then cast shadows into your retina which then appear as floaters that appear to be drifting around in your eye.
Although benign floaters occur at all ages, as we get older, tiny fibers of the vitreous (jelly-like) part of the eye become more liquid, creating more opportunity for these fibers to bond together. There are a number external sources of floaters that should be considered as well:
- injury or trauma to the eye
- strenuous physical activity/excursion
- routine ocular surgery
- foreign bodies in the eye
- hemorrhagic macular degeneration
- in rare cases, a parasitic infections
The vitreous is strongly connected to the retina and the front of the eye, however there is always the risk of a tear, creating a small hole in the retina where it attaches. These small holes can cause blood to enter the vitreous gel. If left unattended the fluid (blood) will begin to accumulate behind the retina at which time a retinal detachment can ensue. This is a serious condition and requires major surgery to repair the retina and prevent any long-term effects (blindness). It is highly recommended you seek the care of an eye doctor or optometrist without delay. Depending on your medical history you may be more susceptible to this complication. Some conditions that cause this are:
- blood disorders
- rheumatoid arthritis
- previous eye injury or surgery
- ocular disease such as glaucoma
Talk To Your Eye Doctor About Floaters
Although floaters are a very common and relatively uncomplicated condition, there can be more serious circumstances that require an optometrist’s care. If you notice a rapid change in the number of them you see, flashes of light in the affected eye(s), or dark spots in your peripheral vision a visit to your local eye doctor is highly recommended.
My Optometrist Calgary team has three locations to complete thorough and comprehensive vision testing to support your vision and eye health. Health First Optometry in SE Calgary can be reached at (403) 256-0606, Sunridge Vision Centre in NE Calgary can reached at (403) 291-0923 and Three Hills Optometry, North of Calgary can be reached at (403) 443-2040, or alternatively, you can fill out the forms on this website.
Q: What are some symptoms of floaters?
A: Gray or black string/dot-like flecks that appear to float around with eye movement then quickly disappear. Typically, they are more noticeable in bright lighting or light background conditions. You can test this by looking towards light then moving your gaze to a plain light coloured surface.
Q: How are eye floaters treated?
A: The majority of floaters are benign and do not require medical intervention. In some cases, they can be a symptom of a bigger problem that only an optometrist can assess. If your symptoms are affecting your vision significantly enough, the following treatment options are available:
- Vitrectomy: a procedure where the vitreous is removed and replaced with a solution to maintain the shape of the eye. This does not necessarily remove all the floaters and new ones can develop after surgery.
- Laser therapy: an ophthalmologist will point a special laser at the vitreous to break up the fibers and reduce their appearance. This treatment is relatively uncommon and doesn’t always yield an improvement in vision.
Q: Do eye floaters ever go away?
A: Most will subside on their own. However, as our eyes become more liquid with age, in time they will no longer be in your line of sight. Your best line of defense against preventing any bigger issues with eye floaters is to have regular eye exams with an optometrist.