By Judith Lee and Gretchyn Bailey;
reviewed by Dr. Vance Thompson
You may sometimes see small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. They are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall or blue sky. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye.
Floaters may look like specks, strands, webs or other shapes. Actually, what you are seeing are the shadows of floaters cast on the retina, the light-sensitive part of the eye.
Eye Floaters and Spots Symptoms and Signs
If a spot or shadowy shape passes in front of your field of vision or to the side, you are seeing a floater. Because they are inside your eye, they move with your eyes when you try to see them. You may also see flashes of light. These flashes occur more often in older people as the vitreous humor thickens and tugs on the light-sensitive retina. They may be a warning sign of a detached retina. Flashes also occur after a blow to the head, often called "seeing stars."
Spots and eye floaters.
Eye floaters and spots are usually harmless, but flashes of light may indicate a problem. If you're suddenly seeing spots, floaters or flashes, get an eye exam to make sure nothing's wrong.
Some people experience flashes of light that appear as jagged lines or "heat waves" in both eyes, often lasting 10-20 minutes. These types of flashes are usually caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain, which is called a migraine. If a headache follows the flashes, it is called a migraine headache. However, jagged lines or "heat waves" can occur without a headache. In this case, the light flashes are called an ophthalmic migraine, or a migraine without a headache.
What Causes Eye Floaters and Spots?
For most people, floaters occur as they grow older. The vitreous humor thickens and clumps as we age, and floaters result from the clumped vitreous gel. Sometimes pregnant women see spots caused by little bits of protein trapped within the eye. Eye injury or breakdown of the vitreous humor may also cause spots and floaters.
When people reach middle age, the vitreous gel may start to thicken or shrink, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. The vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. It is a common cause of floaters, and it is more common for people who:
* are nearsighted;
* have undergone cataract operations;
* have had YAG laser surgery of the eye;
* have had inflammation inside the eye.
Cataracts: symptoms & treatment
Retinal detachment: what to do about it
Treatment for Spots and Floaters
Most spots and eye floaters are merely annoying but harmless when they temporarily enter the field of vision, and many fade over time. People sometimes are interested in surgery to remove floaters, but doctors are willing to perform such surgery only in rare instances.
If you suddenly see new floaters, or eye floaters accompanied by flashes of light or peripheral vision loss, it could indicate serious conditions such as diabetic retinopathy; vascular abnormalities such as retinal hemorrhages or carotid artery disease, or the beginning of a retinal detachment. The retina can tear if the shrinking vitreous gel pulls away from the wall of the eye. This sometimes causes a small amount of bleeding in the eye that may appear as new floaters. You should see your eye doctor immediately.