Ask Dr. Beach: Visual ‘Floaters’

Ask Dr. Beach:  “What are these floaters or spots I’ve had in my vision?”

Floating spots or strands within your vision, also known as “floaters,” are a pretty common occurrence and in some cases can be pretty annoying.   Despite the annoyance, floaters are not cause for concern.   However, exceptions do exist and caution should exercised so as to not mistake floaters for other more serious ocular health risks.

Most often, you may see floaters as clear, translucent, or hazy strands or dots in your vision.

They may be more noticeable when looking at bright lights or white backgrounds.    These floaters are actually shadows cast on your retina by strands within a portion of your eye called the vitreous.   The vitreous is a gel-like sphere that helps the eye maintain its shape, but over time the gel material starts to dissolve.  As a result particles will be cast throughout the vitreous, and it’s these particles that cast the shadows onto the retina.  While annoying, this is a normal aging process within the eye.   However, caution should be used if simple floaters present more pronounced or if accompanied by other symptoms, such as flashes of light.

One important aspect of the vitreous is that it is attached to your retina at several places.  Over time, the same process that causes floaters also causes the vitreous to sink in on itself.   Once the weight of the sinking vitreous becomes too great, it will detach from the retina.   This is called a Posterior Vitreous Detachment and will cause more pronounced, darker and much more noticeable spots or floaters in the central part of your vision.   The tugging force on the retina created by the detaching vitreous may even cause a person to experience flashes of light in their vision.

In a small percentage of cases, the tugging force placed on the retina by a Posterior Vitreous Detachment can cause a retinal tear or detachment.  This is considered a medical emergency and warrants immediate attention to determine whether laser or retinal surgery will be required to prevent permanent vision loss.

Overall, floaters in your vision, if few and constant are most likely harmless and should be discussed with your optometrist at your yearly exam.   If those floaters are accompanied with flashes, or if the floaters become larger and more numerous, you should see your optometrist right away to check for Posterior Vitreous Detachment or retinal tears or detachments.

As always, I’d love to hear your comments or questions.  Give us a shout over on Facebook or on Google+.    And, remember, you can now request your annual eye exam appointment at our office by clicking here.

Dr. Beach