Are Floaters a Cause for Concern?  - Smart Vision Labs

Sometimes on a bright sunny day, you see what appear to be tiny specks flying in the clear blue sky. Try to get a good look at one and they seem to run away from your gaze. How do they know you see them? To explain how, you first have to know they aren’t actually in the sky, but in your eyes.

What Are They?

Floaters can be present at any time, but you typically only notice them under certain conditions. For instance, if you stare at a cloudless part of the sky on a clear, bright day you may be able to spot them as they appear to swim or float by. They don’t have any specific form. Floaters may be stringy shapes or clumped together. Some may be lighter or darker than others.

When They Are Normal

A floater is a bit of debris inside your eye that casts a shadow on the retina. Your eyeball contains a fluid called vitreous. As you get older and the vitreous shrinks, cells or part of the fluid can clump together. The floater you see isn’t the debris itself, but the shadow it makes as it moves in front of your retina and blocks a tiny speck of incoming light. The floating effect is caused by your eyes’ own movement. They aren’t moving – you are. On their own, they are common and harmless. It is when they are seen along with flashes that they become worrisome.

Eye Flashes

Like their name says, eye flashes appear as sudden flares of light in your vision. It is as if you spotted lightning from a storm in the distance. They are generally seen toward the outer edges of your vision.

Quick flashes of light mean something came into physical contact with the retina. Like floaters, a flash now and then and without other symptoms isn’t a cause for concern. The vitreous inside the eye may slightly tug or brush against on the retina and create these small bursts of light.

Floaters and Flashes

Both of these common issues become a problem when they show up together. If there is a sudden onset of flashes with floaters, you need to visit your doctor for an exam.

As you age, little strings in the vitreous fluid pull and break away from the retina. This is called vitreous detachment. It begins to show up in adults over 50 and becomes increasingly common the older the person gets. On its own, it isn’t a threat to good vision and isn’t generally treated.

But sometimes, these tiny fibers pull very hard on either the retina or the macula in the eye. The fluid of the eye goes through the tear, cutting off the blood supply which causes the part to detach. If either the retina or macula tears and isn’t treated, it will lead to permanent vision loss. In macular detachment, the person experiences a rapid decline in central vision. With retinal detachment, people describe it as if a black curtain is being pulled across their vision, from one side to the other.

Normal or Not?

So how do you know when it is normal aging and when to see your doctor? If there is a sudden increase in floaters, especially with flashes, it’s typically the first sign that something is wrong. Keep in mind that these are both painless conditions so don’t wait to see your eye doctor just because you ‘feel’ fine.

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