Eye floaters can be a disturbing symptom, understandably. Other than needing to wear eyeglasses or reading glasses, most of us are accustomed to our vision being clear of obstructions and random phenomena. The development of floaters, traveling webs or objects floating through the field of vision, should not be entirely unexpected, but it is something you want to know about so you avoid unnecessary stress.
What are floaters, anyway?
Floaters are not unexplainable visual aberrations; they are quite normal. A floater is a shadow that is cast on the retina as light enters the eye. The shadow comes from a clump or clumps of protein that have formed in the vitreous humor. The vitreous humor is the central part of the eye. It is typically dense and gel-like. With age, this area becomes more fluid, like water. The fluidity of the vitreous humor then allows clumps of protein to float freely through the eye.
What do floaters look like?
A floater may appear in only one eye. It may look like a worm-like shape, a cobweb, a floating hair, or a moving black dot or multiple dots. We tend to see floaters when we’re looking at a uniform background such as a wall or the sky. It is difficult to observe these floating objects if we try to look at them, though, because they shift through when the eye moves.
Are floaters a medical problem?
Floaters are very common. Most people over the age of 40 experience them from time to time. In many situations, floaters will go away spontaneously. They may occur for weeks or months and then not again for many years. This is usually how floaters manifest.
Concern arises when floaters occur very quickly and severely. The sudden appearance of webs or dots in the field of vision accompanied by flashes of light or significant shadowing of vision may indicate a retinal problem. The retina sits at the back of the eye and behind the vitreous humor. As the vitreous shrinks, it can pull on the retina. In severe instances, the retina can tear away or detach from the back lining of the eye. Without prompt medical care, retinal detachment could result in vision loss.
The eyes are very likely to change with age, which can increase the risk of retinal problems and other conditions. Routine eye exams can detect your risk for potentially serious conditions and also develop strategies to protect long-term vision.