You may or may not have noticed these but these are known as “Eye floaters.” This is one of the questions which baffled me since I was 7 years old. I used to ask everyone about them but no one used to have any idea about it.
Those little dots or squiggles that you see in your vision specially when looking at a blank scene like the clear blue sky. They are made out of little fibrils that occur in your eye as you age, and you cannot look directly at them because they are INSIDE the fluid of your eye. Turning your eye to look at them simply causes the fluid to move and the floater as well. The thing about eye floaters that I love the most is that they are almost always microscopic; you can’t see them without naked eye except, when they are inside your eye!
If you were to pull an eye floater out, you wouldn’t be able to see it because they are, as I said, microscopic. But in your eye, it’s close enough to the retina to leave a shadow on the retina – and that’s what you see when you see those floaters.
About 7 out of 10 people experience floaters at some point during their lives. Sometimes flashes of light, or flashes are experienced with floaters.
Floaters and flashes are very common and are usually not a sign of dangerous medical condition. However, if both floaters and flashes begin suddenly, it may indicate a more serious eye problem, such as a retinal tear or a retinal detachment.
Light hits the cornea of the eye first. The cornea is the transparent covering on the front of the eye.
Next, light travels to the back part of the eye through the pupil. The pupil is the opening in the centre of the iris, the coloured part of the eye.
The iris controls the amount of light that enters the eye by changing the size of the pupil. As light passes through the pupil, it enters a clear lens that focuses the light onto the back of the eye. The lens acts like the lens of a camera.
After passing through the lens, focused light continues through a clear gel called “vitreous.” The light moves towards the back of the eye where the retina is located. The retina changes light into electric signals. The signals are sent through the optic nerve to the brain. The brain translates the signals into the images we see.
People who have floaters see shapes moving in their field of vision.
Floaters may appear as dots, circles, lines, clouds, cobwebs, or other shapes. They usually look grey or white and are somewhat see-through. They may move or remain in one place. About 70% of people have floaters. They are usually small and move fast out of the field of vision. Therefore, they are of little medical importance unless they are big and make it difficult to see clearly.
The vitreous gel that fills the eye is mostly water but also contains proteins and other molecules. Focused light travels through the vitreous gel to reach the retina.
If an object is between the light and the retina, the object’s shadow reflects on the retina. Therefore, floaters are shadows caused by structures suspended in the gel. When we see floaters we are actually seeing the shadows they cast on the retina, as I said earlier.
Where do these structures or objects suspended in the vitreous gel come from?
Floaters either come from the vitreous gel or from cells of tissue around the vitreous.
Protein fibres of vitreous gel can clump together. The clumps can block light and casts a shadow on the retina. These types of floaters are usually small and may look like cobwebs, transparent circles, or tadpoles and are not accompanied by flashes. They remain in the vitreous gel permanently and we learn to ignore them.
There are no medications or eye drops to make floaters disappear. Flashes caused by the vitreous separating from the retina are a normal part of aging and should subside within few weeks or months.
Over time, you won’t notice floaters as much because your brain will learn to ignore the retinal images. Therefore, while some floaters remain in your vision, many of them will fade away and become less bothersome.
You cannot prevent floaters and flashes, but you can prevent vision loss by recognising the symptoms of retinal tear and retinal detachment.
You should see your ophthalmologist if:
- You have never seen floaters and flashes before and all of a sudden you start seeing a lot of them.
- You had floaters and flashes before, but you notice a sudden increase in how many there are.
- A veil or a grey area appears in your peripheral vision or side vision.
- You have had floaters and flashes for a long time, but they now look different than they used to.
- You had floaters in one eye months or years ago and now have them in the other eye.
So, now you know that they are very common and most people experience them at one time or another. They get frequent as we age, it is a normal sign of aging as well. However, they may also be the sign of a retinal tear or retinal detachment – which causes partial or total loss of vision.
It is important to get regular eye exams and to inform your doctor if you experience floaters or flashes. If your eye doctor find any serious problem, he or she may be able to fix it before it causes loss of vision
Fortunately, most floaters fade over time and become less bothersome. If floaters interfere with tasks such as reading or driving, surgery to remove the vitreous is available as a treatment. However, it is rarely needed.
Note: The symptoms, causes and prevention are legitimate and are approved by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Resources & References
- Floater – Wikipedia,
- United States National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health,
- WebMD, Eye Health Center, Retinal Detachment Directory,
- National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health,
- Eye Site, ORACLE ThinkQuest,