Most Eye Floaters are Harmless, but Here’s When They’re Cause for Concern

February 11th, 2019
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While eye floaters are usually not a danger to your vision, there are instances in which you should consult with a doctor or seek immediate medical attention.

As we age, it’s important to know the difference between the harmless effects of getting older and related conditions that require prompt medical attention. While aging affects various parts of the body differently, it can cause optical phenomena known as eye floaters. Luckily, we have some tips for maintaining eye health as you age.

If you’ve ever looked up at a blue sky or at a blank wall and noticed specks or cobwebs moving across your field of vision, then you’re probably familiar with floaters. These small spots may be a temporary source of frustration, but people often get used to them. Additionally, while some people may be concerned by the appearance of floaters in their vision, they’re harmless in most instances.

However, there are occasions when floaters should be cause for concern and when it’s appropriate to reach out to an eye care specialist. Knowing the difference between these two situations is a must, especially as you get older and if you have other issues with your vision.

What Causes Floaters?

Typically, floaters are caused by the breakdown of the vitreous. The vitreous, a gel-like fluid that makes up most of the eye’s interior and helps give it its shape, contains millions of fibers that are attached to the surface of the retina.

As we get older, the vitreous changes and gradually shrinks. When this happens, the fibers within the vitreous become more prominent, casting shadows on the retina that then seem to appear in front of your eye. Floaters usually settle below the field of vision after a time, but don’t go away completely.

However, there are other potential causes of floaters. Inflammation at the back of the eye, such as posterior uveitis, can cause inflammatory debris to break loose from the point of infection and appear as floaters. The same can happen with bleeding within the eye, with broken blood cells looking like floaters. Certain surgeries and medications can cause floaters to appear, as well, although these are typically temporary side effects

How Common are Floaters?

It may be a relief to hear that floaters are very common. Because the vitreous inevitably changes to some degree as we age, most people will experience some kind of optical changes, like floaters, as its fibrous material casts shadows on the retina.

With that said, there are some types of floaters that aren’t as common and that should be cause for concern. For example, a sudden increase in the number of floaters, subsequent deterioration of your peripheral vision, and flashes of light shouldn’t be waved off as common and temporary.   

When Should I See a Doctor?

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. While it’s possible you have posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), a common condition when the vitreous detaches from the retina that’s not an emergency, there’s also a risk that you’re experiencing retinal detachment. This condition is serious and needs immediate attention so that it doesn’t cause lasting damage and vision loss to your eyes.

If you’re worried about floaters or you’re experiencing a concerning change in the number of floaters you see, reach out to ICON Eyecare today. A consultation is a great way to develop a baseline for the number of floaters in your field of vision, but if it’s an emergency, be sure to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.