Eye Floaters: Why We Get Them and What They Mean

Most people know that their vision may change at some point. To manage this, routine eye exams are necessary. But an eye exam needs to go beyond the periodic vision-check to protect lifelong eyesight. Here, we discuss the visual phenomena known as floaters so you know what to do if you start seeing them.

What are eye floaters?

Eye floaters are aptly named because they are small spots or flecks that float across the field of vision. A floater may look like a hair, a cobweb, or a tiny flock of birds, even.  They are sometimes dark and sometimes like streaks of light but they nearly always shift if you try to look at them. This is because floaters exist in the eye.

A floater is a physical clump of protein that is passing through the vitreous humor, the central part of the eye. This gel-like structure fills the space between the front and back structures of the eye. As we age, the vitreous humor becomes watery. Without the resistance of dense gel, protein clumps move freely through the middle of the eye. They become apparent in the field of vision when they interrupt light entering the front of the eye. This casts shadows on the retina, resulting in floaters.

Common, but Not Completely Unconcerning

Floaters are so common that just about every adult will experience them at some point. However, that doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned about them. In most instances, we expect floaters to appear in a “few and far between” manner. They may develop, last for a short time, and then go away for months or years.

When we get concerned about floaters is when they come out of nowhere. One day your vision is clear and the next you are experiencing severe floaters. This may coincide with flashes of light and shadowing of the field of vision. In this instance, it is necessary to see a doctor right away. Symptoms may indicate that the retina has begun to tear or detach from the back of the eye. If not addressed promptly, a retinal tear or detachment could result in vision loss.

Anytime floaters appear, it is wise to have them checked by a board-certified ophthalmologist. We are happy to see you in our Chester, NJ office. To schedule a visit, call 908.879.7297.

Posted in: Eye Conditions

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