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What are Floaters?
A floater is the term commonly used to describe small spots in your field of vision. Floaters cast shadows over the retina (the light-sensitive inner layer of the eye) and the retina in turn then sends visual signals to the brain, resulting in an image being seen.
This causes the person to see small specks that move slowly before the eyes, particularly in certain lights and against certain backgrounds. For instance, when you look at a plain background like a blue sky, you may often see floaters. They can be seen in various forms, as dots, specks, threads or cobwebs.
So what exactly are floaters in the eye? There is a clear, gel-like fluid called vitreous humor inside your eye. If some of this vitreous gel clumps together, you may see floaters. It often seems as though they dart away when you try to focus on them and look at them. Although they may be bothersome, floaters do eventually become less noticeable and are benign. They are usually most common amongst the elderly and nearsighted people.
Problems Associated with Floaters
Degenerative changes occur in the vitreous that shrink and may detach from the retina. This can cause a small amount of bleeding and is particularly common amongst people who are nearsighted or have had cataract surgery. Floaters that are caused by bleeding from an abnormal growth of blood vessels can lead to hemorrhages inside the eye.
Abnormal blood vessel growth can also lead to scar tissue that tends to shrink and this shrinkage causes wrinkling, dragging, distortion, detachment or tearing of the retina.
Signs & Symptoms of Floaters
A floater occurs when a spot or shadowy shape passes in front of your field of vision or to the side. Although floaters can occur during pregnancy or childbirth, they are uncommon in children. People may also suffer from light flashes. Light flashes refer to the false sensation that light is flashing into the eye. Shaped like a line or an arc, light flashes may appear to shoot in a certain direction.
Flashes may also occur in the side of the field of vision and even if your eyes are closed, light flashes can be seen. They are bright and last for a very short time.
Flashes of light may also occur in older people and may be a sign of a detached retina. These flashes are caused by the mechanical stimulation of photoreceptors when the vitreous sometimes tugs on the light-sensitive retina. Although they are usually benign and common, floaters can be signs of a serious condition such as retinal tears, hemorrhaging due to diabetes, high blood pressure or uveitus (a kind of eye inflammation).
What Causes Floaters?
Floaters in the eye are due to the natural aging process of the eye.
Help for Floaters
If floaters persist and symptoms are worrying, it is advisable to have a thorough eye examination. Generally, if the number of floaters in the eye have increased or worsened, you should have it diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. In most cases, floaters do not require treatment because eventually they do disappear.
When floaters appear in your line of vision, you should try to move your eye around or try looking up or down to move the floaters. There are no medications available to treat floaters. However, if floaters occur as a result of inflammatory eye disease, certain medications may be prescribed to treat the inflammation.
In more severe cases, surgery may be needed to remove floaters and prevent blindness. Surgical options include procedures such as vitrectomy and laser eye treatments like conventional LASIK are performed. Vitrectomy helps to remove scar tissue, clear blood and debris from the eye while LASIK corrects visual impairment.