What are Eye Floaters?
Eye floaters or floaters in the eye are the spots present in an individual's vision. They can be seen as gray or black specks, cobwebs or strings which float around when the eyes are moved. The majority of the eye floaters occur as a result of age-related changes when the vitreous, which is a jelly-like substance present inside the eyes, becomes more liquid like in consistency. This leads to the microscopic fibers present inside vitreous to clump together resulting in tiny shadows on the retina, which are visualized as eye floaters.
If you are experiencing an abrupt increase in the number of eye floaters or floaters in the eye, then this is a cause for concern and an eye specialist should be contacted immediately. Other serious symptoms along with this are experiencing flashes of light or a decline/loss in the peripheral vision. In such cases, visit an eye specialist immediately, as this is an emergency.
What Causes Floaters in the Eye?
- Age as a Cause for Floaters in the Eye: The most common cause for eye floaters are age-related changes in the vitreous, which is a jelly-like substance within the eyes. The vitreous helps in maintaining the round shape of the eyes by filling up the eyeballs. As a person ages, there is a change in the consistency of the vitreous, as it tends to liquefy more, leading to shrinkage, which pulls at the interior surface of the eyeball. This shrinking and sagging of vitreous causes it to get clumped and become stringy. Some small parts of this debris obstruct the light which passes through the eye resulting in formation of small shadows on the retina. These shadows are viewed as floaters.
- Floaters in the Eye Caused as a Result of Inflammation: Other causes include inflammation in the posterior region of the eye, such as posterior uveitis, where the layers of the uvea, present posteriorly, get inflamed. This may cause eye floaters.
- Floaters in the Eye Caused Due To Injury or Trauma: Any injury or trauma to eye or blood vessel disorders, which result in bleeding in the eye, also may cause floaters to be seen. Vitreous hemorrhage is one of the conditions where there is bleeding into the vitreous resulting in floaters.
- Retinal Tear as a Cause for Floaters in the Eye: Retinal tears are other reasons for floaters to appear. Tear in the retina occurs when the sagging vitreous pulls on the retina with force resulting in its tear. A retinal tear could result in new floaters. If the tear is not addressed promptly, then it could lead to retinal detachment, which in turn if left untreated, can result in permanent vision loss.
Risk Factors for Eye Floaters
- Individuals aged over 50 years are at a higher risk to develop eye floaters or floaters in the eye.
- Nearsightedness also increases the risk for eye floaters.
- Trauma to the eye increases the risk for eye floaters.
- Complications from cataract surgery can also lead to eye floaters.
- Individuals having diabetic retinopathy are at a higher risk to develop eye floaters.
- Inflammation in the eye also increases the risk for formation of eye floaters.
Symptoms of Eye Floaters
- Eye floaters appear as spots in the vision which look like dark colored specks or transparent strings of material floating around.
- These spots or floaters move upon movement of the eyes. Thus, when a person tries to focus on them, they will move out of the field of vision.
- These floaters or spots are more obvious upon looking at a plain, bright background, such as a white wall or a blue sky.
- Spots will gradually settle down and move away from the field of vision.
Serious Symptoms Warranting Immediate Medical Attention are
- Sudden increase in the number of eye floaters.
- Appearance of new floaters.
- Occurrence of flashes of light.
- Loss of peripheral vision, such as darkness on the periphery of the vision.
All these symptoms could be an indication of a retinal tear, either with or without a retinal detachment, which is a serious condition that could result in permanent vision loss.
Tests to Diagnose Eye Floaters
The ophthalmologist will perform a complete eye exam to rule out any serious conditions as the cause of the floaters. The doctor will check your eyes after instilling pupil-dilating drops into your eyes.
Treatment for Eye Floaters
Majority of the eye floaters or floaters in the eye don't need treatment, as they won't cause much disturbance in the vision or the patient's daily life. Although learning to live with eye floaters may take time, but gradually the patient learns to ignore the floaters and gradually they become less noticeable. Treatment is required if the eye floaters impairs the vision; although this happens rarely. If the floaters are large in size or are numerous, then it becomes difficult for the patient to perform his/her daily tasks. In such cases, treatment is sought.
Treatment to Get Rid of Eye Floaters
- Laser Therapy to Get Rid of Floaters in Eye: Laser therapy can be used to dissolve the floaters. The ophthalmologist will aim a special laser at the floaters in the vitreous which will result in breaking up of the floaters and making them less noticeable. Laser therapy in some patients with Eye Floaters has resulted in improved vision; whereas, some patients experience little or no difference. Risks of laser therapy include retinal damage, if the laser is aimed incorrectly. Laser surgery for treating eye floaters is still experimental and isn't used widely.
- Surgical Treatment to Get Rid of Floaters in Eye: Surgery can be done to remove the vitreous. This procedure is known as vitrectomy where the ophthalmologist makes a small incision in the eye and removes the gel-like vitreous and replaces it with a solution to maintain the eye shape. As the time goes on, the body itself will produce a fluid which will fill the eye and which replaces the solution. Vitrectomy is not guaranteed to remove all the eye floaters and there is a chance of development of new floaters after the surgery. Risks of vitrectomy are retinal bleeding and tears.