Ask the Eye Doctor

Floaters

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Q: Sometimes I see spots floating in my vision.  I was told these are "floaters".  What are floaters?  Can they be treated?

A:
There are a few different causes of floaters. The most common cause of floaters is due to normal age related changes to the vitreous. The vitreous is a jelly like substance inside the eye. As we age, the fibers in the vitreous contract and come together to form strands or clumps. These strands or clumps are suspended in the vitreous. The retina, which surrounds the vitreous, is composed of numerous nerve fibers which transmit signals to the brain and allows us to see. As the eyes moves, these vitreous strands cast a shadow on the retina and we may visualize small spots moving in our vision.

Another common cause of floaters is a posterior vitreous detachment. Normal aging changes to the eye lead to the vitreous contracting and separating from the retina. A large floater may appear when the area where the retina and vitreous were most firmly attached separate. As the process occurs, flashes of light may also be seen because the vitreous pulls on the retina and causes nerve endings to send a signal to the brain. In most cases, the vitreous separates from the retina without any complications. However, a small percentage of cases may cause a retinal tear. If these breaks are not detected and treated promptly, a retinal detachment may occur and lead to permanent vision loss.   

Floaters may be initially annoying; however we may visualize them less with time. Most people learn to ignore their floaters and may only see them in certain lighting conditions. Most floaters do not warrant any treatment. Surgical removal of the vitreous from the eye may be performed, but poses significant risks such as bleeding and infection.

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