Eye floaters are experienced by many people, particularly those over the age of 40. Usually they are harmless, though in some cases they can indicate a serious threat to vision. Let’s find out more about eye floaters, what causes them and how they can be treated.
An eye floater appears as a shape or shadow in your field of vision, which moves as your eyes do. They are most visible when you look at a plain surface such as a wall or at the sky, for example.
They are actually the shadows of protein deposits inside your eye. Some people say they resemble hairs, squiggly lines or dots floating through their field of vision, and it’s common to have more than one at once.
Eye floaters are usually caused as a result of changes in the gel-like fluid in the eye known as the vitreous humour as you get older. When we are young its consistency is thick and smooth, but as we age it becomes more fluid and watery and contains small deposits of protein.
As light goes into the eye, these protein deposits throw shadows on the retina at the back of the eye which is sensitive to light. These shadows are what appear as eye floaters. They move around in the vitreous humour, and appear to keep in step with the movements of your eyes.
While most eye floaters appear simply as a result of ageing, they can also be caused by a retinal tear or other eye injury, inflammation or infection. In these latter cases, they can pose a threat to vision and eye health.
Eye floaters are an inevitable part of the ageing process for many of us, and in most cases do not pose any danger.
However, it’s worth noting that they can in some circumstances be indicative of a serious condition called retinal detachment or retinal tear.
In this case, the retina has separated from the vitreous humour causing the patient to see flashes of light, or dark spots or shadows in their vision. If untreated, this can lead to blindness, so you must seek help urgently if you experience these symptoms.
New eye floaters should be checked by an eye health professional to rule out retinal tear or detachment as described above. If this condition is diagnosed early on it can be relatively easy to treat, but the longer it’s left the more complex the treatment becomes. In some cases it can lead to permanent visual impairment or blindness.
It’s a good idea to get new floaters checked
Normally eye floater removal can be carried out using a laser to disperse the protein deposits in the vitreous humour. Less commonly, a keyhole surgery procedure known as vitrectomy can be employed to get rid of eye floaters.
It’s common for eye floaters to go away of their own accord. They may simply have moved out of your field of vision, or it could be that you don’t notice them any more.
Sometimes eye floaters persist and patients seek to have them removed simply and effectively. At the George Street Eye Centre in Sydney, we offer a comprehensive eye health service, including eye floaters treatment. Find out more about the options available on our eye floaters page, or give us a call on (02) 9230 0010. You can also use our online form to contact us.