Floaters are small shapes or spots in your field of vision that appear to be “floating” then eventually settle and drift out of the line of vision. They are generally more visible when looking at a bright even background, such as the sky or a white wall. Floaters sometimes occur naturally, but excessive floaters are a sign of more serious vision problems.
- Natural occurrences due to age
As people age, the jelly-like substance called vitreous that fills our eyeballs to help them maintain a round shape gradually transforms from a gel to a more liquid-like substance. As the vitreous liquefies and pulls away from the interior surface of the eyeball it can clump and become fibrous. Tiny particles of fibrous vitreous debris cast a shadow from the light that passes through the eye, appearing as floaters.
- Retinal tearing
The retina is a layer of tissue in the back of the eye that receives light, transforms light into signals the brain can recognize, and sends those signals to the brain. Retinal tearing is a serious eye condition that is caused when the vitreous pulls on the back of the retina with enough to make a tear in the retina. If a retinal tear leads to a full retinal detachment permanent loss of vision becomes possible.
- Bleeding in the eye
Many conditions like diabetes, injury, hypertension, and others can cause bleeding on the inside of the eye. When eye bleeding occurs, blood cells trapped within the eye cast a shadow that is perceived to us as floaters.
- Surgeries and medications
Certain surgeries and medications for the treatment of a wide range of visual ailments involve the injection of fluids into the inside of the eyeball. Injections into the eye cause floaters by either having the medication itself cast shadows to create floaters or by tiny air bubbles that are a byproduct of eye injection casting a shadow to cause floaters. Floaters caused by surgery or medications tend to subside once the medication or air bubbles are fully absorbed into the eye.
- Uveal inflammation
Uveal inflammation is inflammation in the back of the eye that can be caused by things like inflammatory diseases and infections, among other causes. Inflammation in the back of the eye sometimes releases debris into the eye, and this debris casts a shadow, causing floaters.
When should I see an Optometrist about my floaters?
Floaters are usually not a symptom of serious visual disorders, however if retinal tearing is the cause of floaters it is critical that you see your optometrist as soon as possible to ensure you do not suffer from retinal detachment and potential permanent loss of vision. If you experience radically more floaters than usual, or if floaters are accompanied by flashes of light or loss of peripheral vision on the same side as the floaters, it is critical to see an Optometrist as soon as possible.