Eye floaters are small specks, spots and cobweb like particles that drift about in your field of vision. Ordinary eye floaters are fairly common and need not be a cause of alarm.
Your eye contains a clear gel like liquid called the vitreous. Unfortunately, the vitreous humour degenerates as we age. When we are young the vitreous has a gel like consistency but as we grow older it may become more watery, especially in the centre of the eyeball.
Parts of the vitreous become more watery and other parts become more solid than they should be. The more solidified gel particles may float around in the more watery parts of the eye.
When small pieces break loose from the back of the eye and float around your eye it is called a floater.
Floaters also have a tendency to sink to the bottom of the eyeball and can blur the vision until they move to a different area. Sometimes people may think they see something out of the corner of their eye but nothing is there.
Floaters are more noticeable in bright light or looking at a computer screen for example. You may not see the floaters but they may cast shadows on the retina at the back of the eye, which you do see.
The Sudden Appearance of Floaters
If floaters appear suddenly then seek expert advice immediately. It may mean serious damage to the eye. It could indicate serious problems with the vitreous gel or even the retina becoming detached.
Posterior Vitreous Detachments – PVDs
This occurs when the vitreous gel starts to become detached from the retina. This is serious and will need urgent attention. The gel may pull on the retina causing physical damage and even retinal detachment.
This may be noticed by the occurrence of light flashes because there is mechanical stimulation to the retina such as the vitreous gel pulling on it. This will stimulate the retina in a similar way when light falls on it.
Weiss Ring Floater
A large floater that is attached around the optic nerve area. Usually circular, doughnut or C shaped.
In more serious cases the retina may be torn and blood will leak into the vitreous, seen as small dots moving across the field of vision.
This is a severe condition, which could mean a retinal tear or retinal detachment.
Retinal detachment requires urgent attention as it could lead to blindness.
Common Causes of Severe Eye Floater Conditions
> Cataract Surgery
> Laser eye surgery
> Diabetes – diabetic vitreopathy
> Eye infections – may cause the vitreous to liquefy
> Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis is inflammation of the retina of the eye caused by a virus
> Being very nearsighted – high myopia. The elongated shape of the eye may cause tension on the retina. More likely to get floaters at a younger age.
Any surgery or damage to the eye such as an accident or fall may aggravate a floater condition.
As you get older these problems become more likely as the vitreous gel becomes more watery in the centre and the gel attached to the retina starts to pull more on the retina and parts can become detached and float around in the watery centre of the eye.
Treatment of Floaters
Most eye floaters are merely annoying and irritating and will probably not cause any major problems. They become more likely as we grow older.
For severe cases – the vitreous is drained from the eye and is replaced with a saline liquid.
The floaters are targeted with a laser and burnt away. This method is less invasive than the Vitrecomy procedure but does pose risks to what otherwise could be simply annoying floaters.