WHAT ARE EYE FLOATERS?
Occasionally, you may see small spots or flecks drifting in your field of vision. They are called floaters. Often you may notice that these spots are particularly pronounced when you look at a plain, clear background, such as a wall or a blue, bright sky, or when looking at a white paper.
The floaters are tiny pieces of the eye gel-like substance or the cells of vitreous humor, which is the transparent and gel-like fluid within the inner back part of the eye.
Although these dots appear to be before the eye, they are actually floating inside it. What you really perceive are the shadows casted on the retina (nerve fiber layer located on the inner surface of the eye), which is a light-sensitive tissue enabling vision.
These "floating bodies" can have different shapes: little dots, circles, lines, specks, or remind small insects like flies, spiders, so they are also known as floaters.
WHAT CAUSES THE EYE FLOATERS?
When some people reach middle age, the vitreous jelly fluid may start to thicken or shrink, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. The vitreous gel emerges from the back of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. This is the most common cause of floaters.
Posterior vitreous detachment is more common in people who:
- Are myopic.
- Have been operated for cataracts.
- Have had eye YAG laser surgery.
- Suffer from inflammation within the eye.
The appearance of floaters may be alarming, especially if they appear suddenly. If you suddenly develop new floaters, you should consult an ophthalmologist, especially if you are over 45 years old.
COULD EYE FLOEATERS BE SEVERE?
When the vitreous gel shrinks and separates from the wall of the eye, the retina can be torn. This may cause a little bleeding in the eye and a new group of floaters may appear.
A retinal tear is a serious problem because it can result in a retinal detachment. We recommend that you check with your ophthalmologist if:
- Suddenly there is a new floating body, even if it is only one.
- You see suddenly flashes of light.
When the vitreous gel rubs or pushes out the retina, it causes the sensation of flashing lights.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT FLOATERS?
As it is important to know if your retina has been torn, go to your ophthalmologist if suddenly there is a new floating body.
Sometimes floaters interfere with vision, which can be very annoying, especially when reading. Try moving your eyes, looking up and down, so that they get away from your line of vision. While some floaters remain in your field of vision, many will become less bothersome as time goes by.
WHAT CAUSES FLASHES OF LIGHT?
When the vitreous gel rubs or pushes out the retina, you might see like light flashes or "flicker" of light. Perhaps you have already experienced this feeling if your eye was once struck and you "saw stars."
Light flashes may appear and disappear for weeks or months, and as we age they become more common. If you notice sudden flashes of light, consult immediately with your ophthalmologist to check whether the retina has been torn or not.
Some people experience flashes of light in both eyes with an appearance of jagged lines or "heat waves" that can last 10 to 20 minutes. This is usually due to a spasm of blood vessels in the brain and the retina secondary to a migraine attack.
If the light flashes are followed by a headache, this is called cephalic migraine. Yet, these jagged lines or "heat waves" can also occur without a headache. In this case, the light flashes are called ophthalmic migraine, or migraines without headache.
HOW ARE YOUR EYES EXAMINED?
When an ophthalmologist examines your eyes, the pupils are dilated with eye drops. During this painless examination, your ophthalmologist will observe the retina and vitreous humor. Because your eyes have been dilated, you will experience blurred vision during few hours after the examination.
Floaters and flashes of light become more common as we age. Although not all of these symptoms are serious, you should always get your eyes examined by an ophthalmologist to make sure you have not suffered any damage in the retina.