Most people see random spots and specs that look like cobwebs floating around in their field of vision from time to time. These are commonly referred to as “eye floaters” and typically do not warrant any need for concern, however, if they remain a consistent problem, they can lead to other conditions that require prompt, if not immediate attention from an eye doctor.
What Is an Eye Floater?
Floaters will usually appear when tiny bits of the eye’s gel-like vitreous break loose within the inner back portion of the eye. Undissolved gel particles will sometimes float around in the more liquid center of the vitreous causing us to see “eye floaters”.
The vitreous is typically gel-like when we are younger, but as we age it becomes more watery as it begins to shrink and break away into these stringy fibers. This process is also often referred to as vitreous detachment. Although it’s normal to experience this phenomenon, if you are noticing a sudden increase in these eye floaters within your field of vision, it’s best to make an appointment with an eye doctor.
When to See a Doctor
A few floaters here and there is usually no cause for concern, however, if you see many of them at once, especially accompanied by flashes of light, then contact an ophthalmologist right away.
This sudden onset of these symptoms could lead to a condition called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). This could also mean that the retina itself is separating from the back of the eye’s inner lining causing retinal detachment. It may be difficult to notice these symptoms as eye floaters will tend to settle near the bottom of the eye beneath the field of vision, providing another good reason for regular eye exams with your eye doctor.
A typical diagnosis is conducted with a dilated eye examination but may need further testing if the vitreous gel is very clear, as it may be hard to see the PVD.
Other more serious causes for eye floaters also include:
- Eye inflammation
- Tearing or trauma in the retina
- Traumatic eye injury
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Eye tumors
In general, any sudden increase in eye floaters should warrant a visit to your eye doctor, as early detection of any conditions of the eyes would only help in preserving vision.
85% of people that experience PVD notice disappearance of symptoms within 3 months. They no longer notice flashes, and the floaters tend to improve. For this reason, specific treatment for PVD is not usually needed but if problems persist, there are options that can help.
From the initial onset of PVD, you should schedule 1 or more visits to your eye doctor within the first 3 months of noticing symptoms. Although rarely needed, surgery may be required for symptoms that persist and potentially develop into retinal tears or retinal detachment. Laser surgery is available to assist in maintaining vision, but it’s best to book an appointment as soon as possible.
Large bothersome floaters that aren’t necessarily a major concern may still be bothersome to individuals. With recent technological improvements, they can be treated with a process called laser vitreolysis.
During this procedure, a laser beam is projected into the eye through the pupil and focused on large floaters to break them apart. By vaporizing them, the bothersome floaters disappear, or at the very least become less bothersome. This method is substantially safer than previous technologies such as a vitrectomy.
Being able to differentiate between when floaters are serious, or when they aren’t a big deal, is a job best left to professionals in the optometry field. Through their education, past experience, and ever-evolving ability to apply new technology to resolve minor and major eye conditions, schedule your next eye exam with a qualified eye doctor of your choice, and be sure to remain consistent throughout your healthy vision journey.