Eye Floaters - Minor Nuisance or Serious Problem?

Do you ever get distracted by small spots or cobweb-like specks drifting aimlessly across your field of vision? They can be particularly noticeable if you’re staring at a bright background like the white of a computer screen or smartphone.

These are probably eye floaters, which are small pieces of collagen protein that have detached from the vitreous body, the gel-like substance in the middle of your eye between the retina and lens. Most of the time they’re harmless, but they can also be a sign or symptom of a serious vision issue. When should you be concerned? Read on to learn more.

What Causes Floaters?

As you get older, the center of the vitreous body slowly begins to break down and liquefy. Tiny flecks of vitreous can clump together and float around the liquefied center, casting shadows on vision that we identify as eye floaters.

Most eye floaters are a manifestation of natural wear and tear that comes with aging, but in rare cases they can be caused by cataract surgery, diabetic retinopathy, YAG laser eye surgery, eye infections or trauma, and nearsightedness.

When Eye Floaters Constitute a Medical Emergency

Although the vast majority of eye floaters are nothing more than a benign visual nuisance, they can occasionally indicate a serious eye condition requiring immediate attention.

A sudden increase in the number of floaters could be a sign of retinal detachment, particularly if accompanied by flashes of light.

The vitreous body liquefies from the center out, meaning that the outer layer is more solid than the middle. As a result, the outer vitreous may begin to collapse in the center, leading to more pieces of vitreous floating in the eye in an apparent showering of floaters. The collapse also can cause the vitreous body to pull away from the retina (posterior vitreous detachment), causing a tear that allows vitreous gel to leak to the back of the eye and potentially cause retinal detachment and permanent blindness.

If you experience a sudden increase in eye floaters, contact an eye care professional immediately. Our team has years of experience in the diagnosis and management of eye floaters and related conditions, including retinal tears and detachment.

Treatments for Eye Floaters

Benign, age-related eye floaters can be a frustrating nuisance — especially for people who spend a great deal of time working on a computer — but they typically fade over time, and the risks associated with treatment often outweigh the benefits.

There are two types of treatment for eye floaters, both of which are generally reserved for the rare cases in which vision is compromised:

Vitrectomy – A surgery to remove the vitreous body from the center of the eye and replace it with a saline liquid.

Laser Vitreolysis – Targeted laser therapy to break up floating vitreous particles.

These treatments can be effective in treating severe eye floaters, but they carry their own risks, such as retinal tears or detachment.

As is the case with many vision problems, the best form of treatment is prevention. We want to help you take control of your eye health and get out in front of any potential issues.

Float On In For an Exam

If you’re experiencing chronic eye floaters or are otherwise concerned about a change in your vision, we’d like to welcome you in for a comprehensive eye exam. Routine exams are essential for staving off serious vision problems, especially for people over the age of 40.