Eye floaters: the facts
Eye floaters are those little spots in your line of sight that look like debris that drift through your field of vision. Their scientific term is “muscae volitantes” which is Latin for “flying flies”, which accurately describes this condition.
They typically stand out when looking at something bright, like white paper or a blue sky. They may be annoying, but you can learn to live with them and ignore them in time. Once you get them though, they usually don’t go away. The good news is, only rarely do they get bad enough to require treatment.
If floaters develop suddenly, and especially if they are accompanied by other symptoms such as flashing lights, a shadow over the vision, or a decline in vision, it’s time to visit your eye care specialist for a thorough eye exam.
What Are the Symptoms?
Floaters earn their name as they move around in the eye. They tend to dart away when trying to focus on them. While eye floaters manifest differently in every pair of eyes, for the most part, people reportedly see the same things:
- Black or grey dots
- Squiggly lines
- Threadlike strands, which can be knobby and almost see-through
What Causes Them?
Most floaters are small flecks of collagen protein. They’re part of a gel-like substance in the back of the eye called the vitreous. As we age, the protein fibres that make up the vitreous shrink down to little shreds that clump together. The shadows they cast on the retina are floaters. They can happen at any age, but usually occur from around 50 years old onwards. They are also more likely if someone is near-sighted or has had cataract surgery.
In rare cases, floaters can develop from:
- Eye injury
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Crystal-like deposits that form in the vitreous
- Inflammation or bleeding
- Eye tumours
- Detached or torn retina
Eye Floater Treatments
We always recommend speaking to an eye care professional before determining which course of action is best for each individual case of eye floaters.
In some cases, a procedure called a vitrectomy may be able to help. This involves surgery where an ophthalmologist removes the vitreous through a small incision and replaces it with a solution to help the eye maintain its shape. Another less frequently used procedure is laser treatment used to disrupt the floaters. Here, an ophthalmologist aims a special laser at the floaters in the vitreous, which may break them up and make them less noticeable to the patient.
The simplest option is just wait it out. Eye floaters, if innocuous enough can disappear after a period of around six months all by themselves.