What is a Floater?

Floaters are a very common visual complaint. You may notice a little squiggle in your vision, that seems to ‘float’ around. If you try look at the spot, it will move in the same direction making it very difficult to look at it right on. So what are these little specks or strings? Well, there are many different kinds of floaters from different origins, the following are a few of the most common sources.

Natural floaters occur in about one third of people, and they don’t follow any age, sex, or race. You can be at a higher risk with higher myopic, or near-sighted, prescriptions. Your eye is hollow and filled with fluid called Vitreous Humor. Floaters can build up in the vitreous and actually are suspended in this fluid. When light comes into the eye it has to pass through the vitreous and these floaters, so a shadow is created onto the back of the eye. This shadow is actually what you are seeing, not the floater itself. As we get older, the vitreous becomes more fluid and there is a greater chance for these fibers to accumulate. There are no treatments for these floaters, but you can wear sunglasses on sunny days make them less noticeable.

As we get older, the vitreous develops wrinkles, accumulates water, and may collapse on itself. When the vitreous collapses, it can pull a small piece from the back of the eye with it. This condition is called a Posterior Vitreal Detachment (PVD), and it affects about 1/3 to 1/2 of people over 60. Many people develop a PVD, but not everyone will have the floater that comes with it. Many times a PVD will be accompanied with flashes of light that comes from inside the eye. If you ever notice flashes of light along with floaters, it may also be signs of a retinal detachment, and needs to be checked right away. There is no pain with this condition, only visual changes. Laser treatments exist to eliminate PVD floaters, but they don’t work well, and usually only creates many smaller floaters out of the large floater.

If you ever notice a sudden onset of many floaters, any flashes, or a large floater that seems to block vision, then you need to make an appointment immediately with your eye care provider. These symptoms can indicate that an ongoing retinal detachment is occurring. The retina is a thin layer of cells on the back inside of the eye, and it is the most important part for vision. There is a risk that it can detach from the back of the eye, and damage vision. Retinal detachments are medical emergencies, and need to be repaired immediately.

Most floaters are benign and will never affect your vision. If you are ever worried about your floaters, then make an appointment with your eye care provider.

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