Eye floaters are a common complaint among ophthalmology patients. Often appearing as small specks in our vision, people can also see floaters that look like rings, cobwebs, or squiggly lines. While these small nuisances aren’t always a cause for concern, there are cases where these spots are signs of a much bigger, undiagnosed problem. Understanding what could be causing floaters, and taking steps to diagnosis their exact cause, is the key to properly handling any floaters you may experience during your lifetime.

Who Sees Eye Floaters?

Eye floaters are an extremely common condition. In fact, almost everyone experiences or develops some form of eye floaters by the age of 70. However, the chance of developing floaters seem to increase if you:

  • Are over the age of 50
  • Have a diagnosis of nearsightedness
  • Have experienced eye trauma at some point in your life
  • Are recovering from cataract surgery
  • Regularly suffer from eye inflammation

What Causes Floaters?

The causes of floaters in the eye vary from person to person, as well as range in degree of seriousness. Four of the most common causes of floaters are:

  • Aging - As we age, the jelly-like substance that gives our eyes its round shape - called the vitreous - starts to partially liquify. When this happens, the vitreous clumps and becomes stringy. This process often create debris within your eye; this debris then sits in the way of light as it passes through your retina, causing you to see floaters or small shadows in your vision.
  • Inflammation - Sometimes the uvea (the part of the eye that encompasses the iris) becomes agitated and inflamed, resulting in swelling and inflammation. This condition, referred to as posterior uveitis, can cause a patient to see eye floaters. The source of this inflammation can be number of issues, including an infection of the eye.
  • Bleeding - Eye floaters can also be caused by bleeding in the vitreous of the eye, which occurs when blood vessels burst due to stress or violent motions of the head.
  • Torn Retina - Sometimes the vitreous starts to sag inside of our eye; when this happens, it often puts traction on the retina of the eye. If the traction becomes too great, it can cause the retina to tear and lead to a retinal detachment.

Each of these causes are very different from one another. The severity of the side effects of each of these causes also often varies, depending on the cause of the problem. And while some causes and side effects are harmless, others can seriously damage your eyes and eyesight.

When Should You See An Ophthalmologist?

Because there is no pain associated with some of the more serious causes (such as retinal damage), a dilated ocular exam is the only way to be confident that your retina is intact and healthy. This means that it’s extremely important for patients who start suffering from floaters to contact their ophthalmologist as soon as possible and to undergo an examination to make sure their floaters aren’t being caused by something serious.

If you’re experiencing any of these additional symptoms, you should call your ophthalmologist immediately:

  • The floaters seem to worsen - especially if they appear as a sudden onset.
  • Flashes of light are occurring along with the eye floaters.
  • You’re experiencing any kind of vision loss.
  • You recently had eye surgery and the floaters suddenly appeared.
  • Pain is occurring in addition to your seeing the eye floaters.

What Can You Expect From Us?

At our practice, we take your concerns very seriously. Our goal is always to examine your eyes and ensure that you receive any treatments necessary so that you can continue seeing clearly throughout your life. Our staff is instructed to set up an expedited exam for you should you call with these symptoms. We encourage you to visit our website for information on practices near you.

*Image courtesy of commons.wikipedia.org