As retinal specialists, we frequently hear questions about visual distortions. Floaters, the appearance of a speck of light or foreign object drifting across the field of vision, are quite common. Here, we want to discuss the questions that our patients ask and what you need to know if you begin to notice floaters in your own vision.
What is an eye floater?
A floater is the appearance of some type of spot or worm-like shape moving across the eye. The “spot” is actually a clump of protein that has formed inside the eye.
How can I identify a floater?
Floaters appear in a number of forms. Some people describe floaters as cobwebs moving through their vision when they are looking at a broad, blank visual field. A floater may look like hairs, birds flying way off in the distance, black dots, or bright lights. Floaters may move along with the eye as observation moves from one object to another. Sometimes spots move when observation stays on a singular object. Often, when a person tries to catch on to a floater, the apparition disappears momentarily.
What causes floaters in the eye?
Floaters are made up of protein molecules in the eye. These clumps of proteins develop because, with age, the gel-like fluid that fills most of the space in the eye changes in consistency. Instead of staying dense and gelatinous, the vitreous becomes more fluid and watery. As this happens, clumps of protein have nothing to do but float. When they do, they cast shadows onto the retina as light passes through the eye. It is the shadows on the retina that appear as floaters in the field of vision.
Typically, floaters are a visual distortion that is related only to the aging process. Eye injury or a retinal tear or detachment could also cause floaters.
Should I be concerned about floaters?
Most adults experience floaters at some point as their vitreous matter changes. Floaters are typically not perceived as dangerous, except in instances in which numerous floaters appear suddenly.
The sudden onset of floaters in the eye could indicate a retinal tear or detachment, which occurs when the shrinking vitreous pulls on the retina at the back of the eye. Depending on the degree of tugging, the retina may partially detach from the back wall of the eye. A retinal tear or detachment may also cause symptoms such as shadowing across the field of vision. If severe floaters and shadowing come on quickly or worsen quickly, emergency medical care should be sought.
Floaters should not be a significant cause for concern. However, if spots in your field of vision are disruptive, you may benefit from treatment with a retinal specialist.
We are pleased to serve patients in areas including Duluth, St. Cloud, Edina, and more. For more information on retinal services, call (800) VRS-2500.