Eye floaters are considered as an annoying visual disturbance. In most cases, a few floaters that occur in the line of vision are not harmful, but occasional floaters especially those that are large in size and numerous that develop abruptly can indicate an issue in the back of the eye arising from the retina or vitreous.
Diagnosing eye floaters
Eye floaters are easy to diagnose. You might think that there is something on the eye or in the air. The floaters are quite noticeable when looking at something light-colored and plain such as a white wall.
The doctor can diagnose floaters both from the description of the individual and by dilating the eye and assessing the back part using an ophthalmoscope. There are some rare causes of eye floaters such as inflammation of the eye, thus it is vital to consult a doctor if floaters suddenly appear.
What are the symptoms?
An eye floater is a string or speck that manifest within the line of vision. The floaters can move or they may remain stationary. A large-sized floater that does not move can be disturbing, especially if it affects the central part of vision. Generally, the eye floaters move with the eye thus they appear to drift if the individual tries to focus on them. After some time, floaters settle onto the base of the vitreous where they could no longer be seen.
Oftentimes, the eye floaters are accompanied by flashes of light. This indicates that there is a serious issue with the retina and must be carefully assessed by the doctor for possible retinal detachment.
What are the causes?
Floaters are typically triggered by shrinking of the vitreous gel which is found in the center of the eye and provides the eye with its shape. The vitreous is connected to the retina which lines the back of the eye. As an individual starts to age, the center of the vitreous liquefies and starts to shrink. Once this occurs, small pieces of the gel breaks off and floats around in the liquefied part of the vitreous. Take note that this is not the floater, but the shadow of the floater as it passes in front of the retina.
The floaters can indicate a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) where a part of the vitreous has detached from the retina as it shrinks. This condition should be assessed by a doctor regularly to ensure that the vitreous is not pulling on the retina as it shrinks. Once the retina shrinks but stays connected to the retina, it pulls the retina off the wall of the eye, resulting to a retinal tear or retinal detachment that can cause severe loss of vision if not treated right away.
Management of the symptoms
Eye floaters do not require treatment unless they indicate another underlying issue such as retinal detachment or tear. The detachment and tears require laser or surgical repair to reattach the part of the retina that pulled away.
In case there are several floaters and disturbing, the vitreous can be removed and replaced by saline solution in a process called vitrectomy. Take note that this might not fully eliminate all floaters though.