What are eye floaters?
Your workers might complain about seeing “floaters” in their field of vision. What can you tell them? Eye floaters may look like black or gray specks, strings or cobwebs that drift about when you move your eyes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Says the Mayo Clinic: Most eye floaters are caused by age-related changes that occur as the jelly-like substance (vitreous) inside your eyes becomes more liquid. When this happens, microscopic fibers within the vitreous tend to clump together and can cast tiny shadows on your retina, which you may see as eye floaters.
If you notice a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters, contact an eye specialist immediately — especially if you also see flashes of light or lose your peripheral vision. These can be symptoms of an emergency that requires prompt attention.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of eye floaters may include:
- Spots in your vision that may look like dark specks or knobby, transparent strings of floating material
- Spots that move when you move your eyes, so when you try to look at them, they move quickly out of your visual field
- Spots that are most noticeable when you look at a plain bright background, such as a blue sky or a white wall
- Spots that eventually settle down and drift out of the line of vision
When to see a doctor
The Mayo Clinic advises that you contact an eye specialist promptly if you notice:
- Many more eye floaters than usual
- A sudden onset of new floaters
- Flashes of light
- Darkness on the sides of your vision (peripheral vision loss)
These painless symptoms could be caused by a retinal tear, with or without a retinal detachment — a sight-threatening condition that requires immediate attention.
According to the Mayo Clinic, eye floaters may be caused by:
- Age-related eye changes.Eye floaters most commonly occur as a result of age-related changes in the vitreous, the jelly-like substance that fills your eyeballs and helps maintain their round shape. Over time, the vitreous changes in consistency and partially liquefies — a process that causes it to shrink and pull away from the interior surface of the eyeball. As the vitreous shrinks and sags, it clumps up and gets stringy. Bits of this debris block some of the light passing through the eye, casting tiny shadows on your retina.
- Inflammation in the back of the eye.Posterior uveitis is inflammation in the layers of the uvea in the back of the eye. Posterior uveitis, which can cause eye floaters, may be caused by infection or inflammatory diseases, among other causes.
- Bleeding in the eye.Vitreous hemorrhage is bleeding into the eye's jelly-like vitreous. Bleeding in the eye can have many causes, including injury and blood vessel problems.
- Torn retina.Retinal tears can occur when a sagging vitreous tugs on the retina with enough force to tear it. A retinal tear may cause new floaters to appear in your vision. Without treatment, retinal tear may lead to retinal detachment — an accumulation of fluid behind the retina that causes it to separate from the back of your eye. Untreated retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss.
The Mayo Clinic says factors that may increase the risk of floaters include:
- Age over 50
- Eye trauma
- Complications from cataract surgery
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Inflammation in the eye
When visiting your doctor…
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, according to the Mayo Clinic, such as:
- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- Have you recently noticed many new floaters?
- Have you seen flashes of light?
- Does anything seem to improve or worsen your symptoms?
- Have you ever had eye surgery?
- Do you have any medical conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure?
Your doctor will conduct a complete eye exam to make sure your floaters aren't a sign of something more serious. Part of the exam will include looking into your eyes after your doctor has placed pupil-dilating drops into your eyes.
Most eye floaters don't require treatment
In most cases, eye floaters don't require treatment. Learning to cope with your floaters may take time. Living with eye floaters may be frustrating. With time, you may find you can ignore the floaters more easily and that you notice the floaters less often.
Treatments for floaters that impair your vision
In rare cases, your eye floaters may impair your vision. Rarely, floaters may be so large or so numerous that it's difficult to go about your daily tasks. In these situations, you and your eye doctor may consider treatment for your eye floaters.