Eye floaters are shapes that appear to hover in your line of sight. They can come in different forms - you might see a lot of smaller floaters or just a few large ones.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Floaters generally appear most clearly against a light background such as a pale wall. If you have eye floaters, you may start seeing these shapes:
Long thin strands
Small dark dots
COMPLICATIONS OF EYE FLOATERS
Eye floaters shouldn’t normally have an impact on your vision, however relatively big floaters may be distracting and can affect your ability to concentrate, making tasks such as driving or reading more difficult.
WHAT CAUSES EYE FLOATERS?
Floaters occur as a result of debris floating in the substance in your eyeball between your lens and retina – this substance is known as the vitreous humour, and it is made almost completely from water. The debris can appear due to the following:
AGEING PROCESS- Eye floaters generally start to appear around the 40 year age mark, becoming more and more common at the age of 60 plus. However, they can also occur in younger people. The ageing process causes strands of collagen to show up in your vitreous humour, forming swirling shapes as your eyes move. These strands cast shadows on your retina.
POSTERIOR VITREOUS DETACHMENT- A condition known as posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) can also cause floaters to develop. PVD is found in three-quarters of people over 65, and may be a result of age-related changes in the vitreous humour. The vitreous humour’s centre becomes more liquid as you get older, causing the outer layer (known as the cortex) to come away from the retina. The collagen in the cortex thickens and forms clumps, leading to the development of floaters. PVD can also cause you to see flashing lights as a result of the cortex tugging on the retina.
RETINAL TEARS- The retina and vitreous humour become separated in about 50% of people by the time they reach their 50’s, but this rarely causes complications and in most cases, you might not even notice it happening. These floaters generally last for a few months before being absorbed into the retina. Sometimes however the vitreous humour may not fully separate from the retina and therefore when it pulls away it causes the retina to tear and blood to leak into the vitreous humour. This results in a number of floaters and possibly bright flashes of light. The floaters and flashing lights shouldn’t have any long-term effects, and they may be an indicator of another condition such as a migraine, however, if you experience them you should see an eye care specialist straight away.
RETINAL DETACHMENT- Retinal tearing may lead to the retina becoming detached from the back of the eye, which can result in damage to your vision. However, the condition is rare and only affects 1 in 10,000 people, although it can be more common in people who have myopia (short-sightedness).
General damage to the retina can cause the images your brain receives to become patchy or lost entirely, while retinal detachment can also cause floaters, flashing lights, and vision loss. If you have a sudden onset or increase in floaters, flashes or any vision loss then you should book an eye test immediately.