The term retinal detachment refers to a medically-urgent eye condition which occurs when the retina moves out of its natural position. Without treatment, it can bring about permanent vision loss in one or both eyes. A common symptom is the sudden occurrence of spots in the affected organ, called retinal detachment floaters. Here is more information about them and why you need to call your physician if you have such a problem.

What Are Eye Floaters?

Imagine you are looking through a window glass that has a few dirty spots here and there. Eye floaters are specks that appear in your visual field and keep you from seeing everything clearly. Generally described as cobweb-like images or threads by patients, they are actually small heaps of cells dwelling in the vitreous humour. The latter is the gel-like tissue lodged right behind the lens and supporting the eyeball. It connects the lens and the retina, allowing for light to reach its due destination.

When you are young, the substance is relatively firm but as you age, it can turn into a liquid and break into small chunks that start to roam about freely. However, what you see is not the spot per se but the tiny shadow it casts over the retina. Floaters are most evident when you are looking directly at a bright or plain background, such as your computer screen or a white wall.

The condition is more likely to befall patients with cataract surgery, those suffering from diabetes, or people who are near-sighted. It can be harmless but it may also be signalling you for a serious problem. If no treatment is pursued, the retina may begin to tear, allowing fluid inside and causing detachment. This is why when you notice spots, you need to rule out any vision-damaging issues.

Detached retina

What to Do When You Experience Floaters

Since the condition may be a warning signal of underlying eye disease, you should not waste any time and schedule a physical examination with an ophthalmologist as soon it appears. They will do some tests to determine what happened and will then prescribe a certain treatment if such is necessary. You will have to follow their instructions very carefully and come back for more evaluations on an as-needed basis.

When do you actually need to urgently see a specialist?

  • If the floaters are accompanied by flashes of light
  • If you experience a sudden rise of new floaters
  • If you lose your peripheral vision (darkness on one or both sides)

These symptoms are not accompanied by pain so it is easy to disregard them. However, to reiterate, there might be an issue there and the last thing you want to do is underestimate the situation.

Aside from Retinal Detachment, What Else Could Cause Eye Floaters?

Bleeding. If any part of the eyes starts bleeding and the liquid reaches into the vitreous, this could result in floaters. The reasons vary from hypertension, diabetes to injury and blocked blood vessels. In this case, it is blood cells that throw a shadow over the retina, making it seem as if there is something drifting about in the eye.

Posterior Uveitis. This is an inflammation that starts at the back of the eye. It is possible that it causes debris to move into the vitreous which then appears as floaters.

Eye treatment. If you have recently been operated on or given certain eye medication, you could be at risk for developing eye floaters. This is because some drugs may cause the formation of bubbles into the vitreous by the time they are being absorbed by the body. However, after a while, they should disappear. Furthermore, some surgical interventions will add oil bubbles to the eye, which can have the same impact.

Age. Getting older means the body doesn’t work as it used to before and some processes are no longer so adequate. As mentioned above, the vitreous can become liquid over time, with the debris preventing some of the light from entering the eye. In turn, this creates small shadows that appear as floaters.

What Treatment is Available?

Doctor and patient

It depends on the underlying cause. All things considered, it is important to determine what brought about the spots and initiate a proper course of action.

No intervention is necessary if the floaters arose because of changes in the vitreous.

In the case of retinal detachment being the main culprit for your problem, the only way out is surgery, of course given that you want to keep your vision undamaged. It will help to fix the affected organ but only if done as promptly as possible. There are different ways to go about this. One such treatment is pneumatic retinopexy which entails injecting the eye with gas or air. It creates a bubble that ceases fluids from seeping out into the retinal break.

Another procedure that can help with the problem is scleral buckling. It works by suturing a tiny piece of material to the sclera (the white segment of the eye) and binding everything together like a belt. And finally, there is also a procedure named vitrectomy which involves draining the eye fluid and substituting it for silicone oil, gas, or air.

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