Eye floaters are not to be confused with a human floater, which refers to a person who frequently changes occupations or residences, or the floaters you might see in your toilet (yuck). While it can also be slang for a blunder, make no mistake: The floaters we’re talking about today are the loose particles within the eye that can obscure your vision.
If you have no idea what we’re talking about, lucky you! It would seem like you do not belong to the large group of people around the globe who not only see floaters, but are visually impaired as a result.
As much as 76% of people see floaters, and 33% experience noticeable vision impairment from the condition.
This mostly benign and painless condition is otherwise known as posterior vitreous detachment. In certain cases, however, floaters can be indicative of a serious underlying condition such as retinal detachment. Furthermore, while these jelly-like clumps usually affect those above the age of 50, the condition can definitely impact younger individuals, especially if certain risk factors such as severe myopia are present.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the subject of floaters:
What are floaters?
Floaters are small, dark, and distinct shapes that float across your field of vision. A majority of floaters appear as spots, threads, squiggly lines, or even little cobwebs. These dark spots and squiggly lines can either be caused by opacities in the vitreous (which cast shadows on the retina), or light bending at the junction between fluid pockets and the vitreous.
Floaters are mostly due to age-related degeneration of the vitreous, but may also be caused by vitreous debris from infection, inflammation, or haemorrhage, which is why younger individuals need to keep an eye out for the condition.
How can I tell if what I’m seeing are floaters?
- Small shapes that drift across your vision: If your eyes are stationary, floaters will drift across your vision and resemble dark specks, knobby, transparent strings, squiggly shapes, worms, or even cobwebs.
- Specks that move when you move your eyes: Floaters move as your eyes move, so if you try to look at them directly, they will seem as if they’re moving away.
- More floaters when looking at something bright: Floaters are most noticeable when looking at bright, plain items, such as a white wall, or blue sky.
What conditions can eye floaters be indicative of?
Floaters are usually harmless, but it is crucial to see an eye doctor if you’re worried about possible underlying conditions, especially if you notice the aforementioned symptoms:
- Haemorrhage of retinal vessels: Vessels might bleed into the vitreous and cause minute, dark, or red spots to appear.
- Diabetic retinopathy: Blood vessels in the retina weaken and burst
- Retinal tear/detachment: A serious condition when the retina of the eye breaks and detaches from the rest of the eye’s layers. Requires immediate medical attention.
This is why it is crucial to keep eye floaters under close monitoring – your eye doctor will be able to help assess your condition and either assure you that your floaters are benign, or offer timely treatment which can prevent further or permanent vision loss.
What are the different types of retinal detachment?
|This type of RD is the most common, and is caused by a hole or tear in the retina that causes fluid to collect underneath the retina, pulling it away from underlying tissues. The areas where the retina detaches lose blood and eventually stop working, causing vision loss. The most common cause for this type of RD is ageing.
|Tractional retinal detachment occurs when scar tissue grows on the retina’s surface, causing it to pull away from the back of the eye. Individuals with poorly controlled diabetes or other health conditions are at risk of developing this type of RD.
|In this type of detachment, fluid accumulates beneath the retina even without any holes or tears. Exudative RD can be caused by age-related macular degeneration, eye injuries and tumors, and inflammatory disorders.
What are the risk factors for retinal detachment?
- Extreme myopia
- Ageing: RD is more common in individuals over the age of 50
- Previous retinal detachment
- Previous retinal detachment surgery
- Family history of retinal detachment
- Previous eye surgery (eg. cataract removal)
- Previous eye injury, trauma, disease or disorder (eg. retinoschisis, uveitis, or lattice degeneration)
As you can see, there are many risk factors1 for developing a retinal tear that have nothing to do with age, such as high myopia, eye trauma, cataract surgery, or a family history of retinal tears.
Furthermore, the risk of retinal tears and detachment is even greater for patients reporting both flashes and floaters in their field of vision, and in individuals with more than 10 floaters in their vision2.
Therefore, it is important for both the young and old to be aware of these risk factors and to take the measures necessary for good eye health.
How can I prevent eye floaters?
While there is no known prevention for floaters and flashes, both of which are usually quite harmless, there are a few habits you could incorporate into your daily life for greater eye health.
We recommend to our patients the following:
- Take short breaks from extensive tasks, such as a 5-minute movement break every hour or so.
- Avoid dehydrating caffeinated products which can dry out your eyes.
- Eat a healthy diet with leafy greens, fatty fish, and citrus fruits, all of which are good for eye health.
- Get sufficient sleep. If your body doesn’t get enough rest, it can cause stress on the eyes, and floaters may seem more visible.
- Avoid staring at a computer screen for long hours. Doing so can lead to digital eye strain and cause floaters to become more noticeable.
- If bright environments aggravate the floaters, wearing sunglasses with UV protection whilst outdoors is a good habit.
- Lastly, have your eyes checked regularly.
When should I seek treatment for eye floaters?
Most individuals have floaters that come and go, and they often don’t require treatment. But if you notice a sudden appearance of new floaters, and if they don’t seem to be going away, it’s best that you pay a visit to your eye doctor as soon as you can.
Apart from the above, if you notice these additional symptoms, don’t take your eye off the ball, and see a doctor immediately:
- Blurred vision
- Many more eye floaters than usual
- A curtain-like shadow that spans across your visual field
- Flashes of light in the same eye as the floaters appear in
- Darkness on a side, or sides of your vision (indicative of peripheral vision loss)
What are the treatments available for eye floaters?
The most common cause of floaters and flashes due to vitreous gel degeneration does not require specific treatment. However, in some cases, laser treatment and vitrectomy surgery can go a long way in protecting eye health.
Remember, RD is a medical emergency that can lead to permanent vision loss, so whilst you shouldn’t worry overly about the presence of floaters in your eye, you’ll need to monitor your condition closely with the help of an eye doctor.
Got questions? Feel free to drop us a message and the Asia Retina team would be happy to help.
- Pokhrel, P. K., & Loftus, S. A. (2007). Ocular emergencies. American family physician, 76(6), 829–836.
- Gishti, O., van den Nieuwenhof, R., Verhoekx, J., & van Overdam, K. (2019). Symptoms related to posterior vitreous detachment and the risk of developing retinal tears: a systematic review. Acta ophthalmologica, 97(4), 347–352. https://doi.org/10.1111/aos.14012