What are eye floaters?

As warmer weather is right around the corner, many of us will think of “floaters” as devices we’ll use at the pool, lake or in the rivers that surround us in Wisconsin and the U.P.

In the eye care world though, the term has another meaning. To eye doctors, floaters are small pieces of debris inside of the eye that affect a patient’s field of vision. Most floaters are benign and are present at birth, however new onset floaters need to be evaluated by an eye care professional. It is important to know the difference.

Normal floaters are small pieces of protein material that “float” within the eye’s vitreous, the jelly-like material that fills the inside of the eye. When you “see” the floater it is actually the shadow the debris casts on the retina, similar to a shadow seen on a screen when a particle of dust moves in front of a projector. These floaters are remnants of blood vessels that were used to develop the eye when in the womb. Though normal floaters are annoying, they are common. They are also generally not serious and rarely require intervention.

The spots caused by eye floaters are most easily seen against a bright uniform background such as a white wall or cloudless blue sky; they are often best seen in your periphery vision. When you try to look directly at a floater, it will quickly move out of your field of vision.

Recent onset floaters, or “new floaters,” are a different story. It is common for a person to experience a drastic increase in the amount of floaters, combined with light flashes. If this occurs it is important to have an eye care professional perform a dilated eye exam to rule out a retinal detachment or tear. People most at risk for “new floaters” are those who:

  • are over age 50
  • have experienced inflammation in the eye or eye trauma
  • are nearsighted, or cannot see distant objects
  • have had bleeding in the eye
  • suffer from diabetic retinopathy
  • have suffered a torn or detached retina

The cause for recent onset floaters is simple. As people age, the vitreous thickens or shrinks which can cause cells to clump or strands to form. Floaters also can form as the result of posterior vitreous detachment – when the vitreous pulls away from the back of the eye as it begins to clump.

If floaters are affecting your life, or if you are experiencing an increased amount of floaters, it is important to call Tower Clock Eye Center to schedule an appointment at 920 499-3102.

 

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