Are you seeing floaters?

July 10, 2015

Seeing spots? Floaters can be annoying and indicative of a larger problem. Find out more here.

Are you seeing floaters?

What are floaters?

  • "Floaters" are semi-transparent spots, blobs or cobweb-like threads that drift across your field of vision and may move around as you move your eyes.
  • They are due to stray fibres and cellular debris trapped in the normally transparent, jelly-like substance called vitreous humour that fills the larger cavity of the eyeball, behind the lens.
  • As they float by, they cast a shadow on the retina, and it's the shadow that makes you aware of them, especially if you're looking at a plain background, such as a pale wall or a clear sky.
  • Most people have a few floaters and they get more common as the vitreous humour liquefies and shrinks slightly, especially after the age of 50.

Who gets them?

  • Nearsighted people and diabetics may have more floaters earlier in life, and they can increase after cataract operations, laser eye surgery or an eye injury. In most cases, floaters are harmless.
  • Yet, interestingly, this is a symptom that patients often report to their doctors or eye specialists. In one British survey, optometrists said that they each saw on average 14 patients a month who were concerned about floaters.
  • If you've never noticed them before, or if you have, but they're now increasing in size or quantity, they can be alarming and bothersome.

What to do about them

  • In some cases, looking rapidly up and down will encourage them to move out of your field of vision. Floaters usually settle within a few months, and they become less noticeable as your brain learns to ignore them.
  • Usually floaters increase in number gradually. Very rarely, a sudden new batch of floaters may signal some other eye problem, especially if accompanied by flashing lights or loss of vision at the periphery (what you see out of the corner of your eye).
  • Report these symptoms to a doctor or optometrist at once, as this can occur with a complication of diabetes called diabetic retinopathy, or with retinal detachment, a condition that needs immediate treatment to prevent blindness.
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