Eye floaters are something that we all have experienced at one time or another.  They are those clear dots or lines that you can see floating through your field of vision.  Sometimes they are grey or even black, but they don’t usually interfere with your vision.  If you try to focus on one of these dots they tend to float away in another direction.  If you were really bored, you can make a game of it.

eye diseases and cond s17 floaters3What are they?  Well, as with most things related to your eyes, the answer is never that easy.  Picture, if you will, the eye ball.  At the front of the eye, like a camera, is the lens.  At the back is the retina where, like the film in a camera, the image of what you are seeing comes into focus.  In between are blood vessels, nerves and other parts of the eye with Latin sounding medical names.  The stuff that fills in the rest of the space is a jelly like substance called Vitreous.  As we age, the vitreous start to become more liquified.  As it does, microscopic fibers within the substance start to clump together.  These groups of fibers form a shadow on the retina causing the floaters in the same way you make shadow puppets on a wall in front of the light of a projector.

The big question is this: “Should I be worried?

Here the answer is a little easier. Probably not.

Having vitreous become more liquid is just one of those things.  It happens to everyone.  Having those fibers bunch up causing the shadow puppets on the retina is, likewise, just one of those things.  This process is very slow and for the most part it is a harmless nuisance. They can also be somewhat annoying.  (As I sit here writing this, I have never been so more aware of floaters than I am right now, so yes, they can be quite annoying.  At this point I bet right about now, you are realizing it as well.  You’re welcome.)  This does not mean, however that you should always ignore them.

You may have realized, that the answer to whether I should be worried was a vague “probably not.”  There are cases where floaters can be a symptom of something more serious, however, in most cases, the floaters are not part of this slow, gradual process.  If you are suddenly inundated with floaters, which are also accompanied by what looks to be flashes of light as well as diminished peripheral vision, it is time to see a doctor.  This could be the start of a retinal tear, which, while painless, could be a sight-threatening condition that requires immediate attention.

As with anything else, when you come in for your annual exam, if you have floaters, mention it.  As we said, they are most likely nothing to worry about, but it is always best to be sure.