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 eye flashes.
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 and flashes.
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 necessary.
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 vision loss.