Have you ever tried to swat a gnat out of your line of vision, only to
find it wouldn’t go away? Have you noticed a cobweb shape in your
vision when looking at a bright background such as a computer screen or
the blue sky? These disturbances to vision are called
eye floaters, and are a common condition. While they may be a sign of a more serious
eye condition, they are often not an indicator of unhealthy eyes, but
rather a natural result of aging.
Floaters are small pieces of the vitreous gel that fills the inside of
your eye. As we age, the vitreous liquefies and occasionally, pieces of
this gel may break loose and begin floating in your eye. What you see
are not the floaters themselves, but the shadows they cast on your retina.
Movement of the vitreous gel may also cause a pull on the retina, which
results in flashes of light or even seeing “stars.” People
who experience a blow to the head may experience the sensation of
About half of adults over 50 years of age have floaters already, and most
everybody will get them at some point in time. Floaters and flashes are
most often harmless, but a sudden onset of multiple floaters can be an
indication of a more serious eye condition, such as a tear in the retina,
or retinal detachment. Should the retina completely detach from the back
of they eye, permanent vision loss may occur.
Symptoms of floaters or flashes
Do you think you may have floaters or flashes? Here are some symptoms to look for:
- Seeing small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision.
- Seeing dots, lines or cobwebs.
- Seeing flashes of light or what looks like lightening.
- Seeing stars.
- Seeing jagged lines or “heat waves.”
- Flashes followed by a headache or migraine.
Who gets floaters or flashes?
In many cases, floaters and flashes are simply a result of aging. However,
there are some risk factors commonly associated with the condition. For
example, individuals with nearsightedness, or who have previously undergone
cataract surgery or YAG laser eye surgery may be at higher risk of experiencing
floaters. Injury and inflammation in the eye can also lead to floaters
When you should contact your doctor about flashes or floaters
Most commonly, floaters are harmless, but if you notice a sudden onset
of multiple floaters or flashes, or if you experience flashes or loss
of vision accompanied by eye floaters you should contact your eye doctor
immediately. You should also contact your doctor if you develop floaters
after trauma or injury to the eye, or if floaters are accompanied by pain.
Can floaters be removed?
Most often, it is not necessary to medically treat floaters. You can cause
the floaters to move out of your direct line of vision by moving your
eyes up and down. In the rare case that eye floaters are so dense they
affect vision, a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy may be necessary.
During the procedure, the vitreous gel and any pieces that have broken
off are removed by a retinal specialist and the gel is replaced with a
salt solution. Risk of complications following this procedure is high,
so most doctors will not perform the procedure unless it is absolutely
Everyone, with or without floaters, should get a dilated eye exam once
a year, or as directed by the eye doctor. Contact Key-Whitman today to
schedule your eye health check-up if it’s been longer than a year or if you notice any vision change
to receive immediate treatment if necessary. If retinal detachment has
occurred, immediate eye surgery may be necessary to prevent permanent