Eye Floaters

Eye floaters are those tiny cobweb like spots that float around in our field of vision. In most cases they are harmless and are no need for concern.

When we are born, the vitreous (jelly-like fluid at the back of the eye), has a gel-like consistency. As we get older, this gel starts to dissolve and becomes more liquid. Some undissolved gel-like particles float around in the more watery centre. They may be many shapes and sizes and this is what we refer to as floaters.

These floaters are more noticeable when looking at a white wall or computer screen or at the bright sky. What we are seeing is actually shadows of the floaters reflecting on the retina. Also, they never stay still. They are always moving as your eye moves.

When are Floaters an Emergency?

If you notice a shower of floaters and spots accompanied with flashes of light, you should seek medical attention immediately. This means that the vitreous is pulling away from the retina causing a retinal tear, which could lead to a retinal detachment. Retinal detachments can lead to severe permanent loss of vision. An ophthalmologist needs to be consulted immediately to reattach the retina and prevent blindness.

Light Flashes

When the vitreous pulls against the retina, it causes flashes of light. These flashes may be short lived or continue until the retina is repaired. Sometimes, flashes are also caused after a blow to the head. Some people notice flashes where the light is wavy or jagged, which continues for 20-30 minutes. This is caused by spasm of the blood vessels in the brain. If this is accompanied by a headache, it is a migraine headache. If it is not accompanied by a headache it is called an ophthalmic migraine.

Treatment for Floaters

Most floaters are not serious and require no treatment. They will fade over time and become less bothersome. Eye specialists will only consider removing them if they are so many that they disturb your vision. This is done by a procedure called a vitrectomy. The vitreous gel is totally removed from the eye together with the floaters. The gel is usually replaced with saline.

Remember, the sudden appearance of a significant number of floaters accompanied by flashes of light could indicate a retinal detachment and is a medical emergency which requires immediate treatment.

If you suddenly see floaters, visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately.

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