Have you ever noticed small, string-like shadows that appear to drift in front of your eye, but don’t seem to truly exist? In a sense, that’s exactly what they are: shadows, as reflected from within the eye. Technically called vitreous floaters, or simply ‘floaters’, these tiny images are extremely common â€“ provided, of course, that you only notice them occasionally and faintly. In some instances, though, these floaters may be indicative of a greater problem, and in such cases, it is important to recognize the difference. If you are in the San Diego area and have questions about your vision or the health of your eyes, please consider an in-depth eye exam at our office. Or, if you experience any of the more serious symptoms noted below, seek treatment as soon as possible. Your vision and well-being may very well depend on an informed and timely decision to seek appropriate eye care.
What Are Vitreous Floaters?
To understand where floaters come from, it is necessary to understand the parts of the eye. Between the lens at the front and the retina at the back, the eye is largely made up of a gel-like substance called the vitreous humor. This substance primarily holds the parts of the eye together and allows light to pass through. Over time, the collagen fibers that comprise the vitreous tend to shrink or clump together, as a natural part of the aging process. Because of this change in size and shape, the fibers may partially obscure specks of light received by the retina, thereby casting shadow-like images that appear to float across our field of vision. These floaters are often most noticeable when staring at white space or a bright image, and can usually be ignored. In such cases, there is little cause for concern; they are almost certainly harmless. However, there are a few circumstances in which floaters may indicate a more serious problem within the eye, necessitating treatment.
When Are Floaters a Problem?
When floaters are simply noticed once in a while and do not significantly impact one’s vision or even call for attention, then they can most likely be ignored without consequence. On the other hand, additional symptoms should be duly noted and relayed to an eye care professional as soon as possible:
- Increase in number: Seek professional help if you see an increase in the number and prevalence of floaters, especially if they appear suddenly and persistently.
- Flashes of light: If floaters are accompanied by flashes of light, there is very likely damage to the inner eye, warranting treatment.
- Loss of vision: Seek help if floaters are accompanied by peripheral vision loss (a loss of side vision).
- Additional visual disturbances: Any time you see a sudden, significant change in your vision without obvious cause, you should seek professional assistance. In some cases, the underlying problem will only continue to worsen if not treated quickly, potentially leading to permanent damage.
Problems Associated with Floaters
When vitreous floaters are actually involved in an underlying problem, it is usually due to retinal detachment. In cases of retinal detachment, the retina at the back of the eye pulls away from its adjacent blood vessels, leaving it void of oxygen and allowing the space to fill with fluid. When left untreated, most cases of retinal detachment result in increasingly damaged vision.
In other cases, floaters may be associated with infection, hemorrhaging, inflammation, and injury. An increase in floaters may even be indicative of a greater overall disease such as diabetes. For a more accurate diagnosis, schedule an exam with an experienced eye care professional.
Don’t Wait to Seek Help
In cases of retinal detachment or a similar problem, time is of the essence. Even when treatment is administered, initial damage to the eye may result in long-term vision loss. It is therefore necessary to report any visual disturbances outside of the norm to your eye care provider as soon as they occur. For an eye exam or to seek immediate help from Dr. Chen, contact our office and schedule your next visit.