Floaters – Safe or Scary?

May 01, 2020

You could be reading a book, watching TV or driving your car, when you see small dark spots appear before your eyes. You may be brushing your teeth, working on your computer or cooking dinner when you think a hair has crossed into your field of vision, but you can’t seem to brush it away. Should you be concerned? Is something wrong with your eyes? 

In most cases, these mysterious “floaters” are harmless. But what are they, exactly? Why do they occur, and what do they mean? 

The term floater is generic word used to describe a tiny cluster of cells or flecks of protein trapped in the vitreous humor, the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the back two-thirds of your eyeball. The vitreous humor allows light to travel through the lens and into the eye. The vitreous is attached to the retina, the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye that capture images and delivers them to your brain via your optic nerve. The dark image you’re seeing is a shadow cast by the cells or protein flecks in your vitreous humor, and not the objects themselves. The floaters, which move as your eyes move, usually seem to move more rapidly when you look directly at them, and float and drift gently when your eyes stop moving. 

Floaters are more common in older people, as the vitreous humor tends to shrink as people age, giving it a stringy texture. The strings in the vitreous cast shadows, which can appear as rounded dots or elongated hair or web like strands. By age 60, a quarter of all people have experienced floaters; and that number rises to two-thirds of all people over the age of 80. If you are nearsighted, have had cataract surgery or a prior eye injury, or have diabetes, you are more likely to have seen floaters. Floaters can also be the result of inflammation in the back of the eye, bleeding in the eye, eye surgeries or medications that are administered directly into the eye. 

Many floaters will eventually disappear or become less noticeable, as floaters tend to drop to the bottom of the vitreous, below the field of vision. However, in some cases, floaters can indicate larger problems with your vision. Don’t wait to see an eye doctor if you have a new floater that lasts more than a few days, or if you notice a sudden increase in existing floaters. Other red flags include eye pain, experiencing changes in peripheral vision that look like a curtain or shade drawn over the side of your eye or seeing flashes of light. These symptoms can be warning signs of several more serious conditions, including a torn or detached retina. A trained and licensed optometrist can quickly spot problems that can lead to permanent vision loss. 

If you have your floaters checked when you first notice them, and after time they continue to have a large impact on your vision, you may want to ask about treatments to resolve the issue. Lasers can be used to eliminate the floaters, or you may require a vitrectomy, where the vitreous humor is removed and replaced. It’s not a common surgery, but it is a viable option for severe floaters. For many patients, however, the risk of surgery far outweighs the inconvenience of daily living with floaters. 

If you think you have floaters, call Pro-Optix Eye Care at 713-360-7095 for an appointment. We’re the Tanglewood/Galleria Area’s one-stop eye care center - we can assess your floaters, complete a vision exam and outfit you with high fashion eyewear such as designer frames for every occasion! 

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