What Are “Floaters”?

What are “floaters”? I’m referring to those squiggly little lines that enter the vision in the eyes, and floaters is what they are commonly referred to. What are floaters, what causes them, and are they a serious concern? Since I get them myself from time to time (blinking and moving the eyes around just puts those little buggers right back where they were), I wanted to find out just what floaters are. Here is what I found…

Floaters are defined as either dark spots, lines, or particles that people notice in the eye when they move their eyes around. They cast shadows on the retina, which, when sending the signal to the brain to create an image, stays within that image. Not the same thing as seeing a spot of light after looking at a lightbulb or flashlight beam, floaters are most commonly noticed when looking at a white surface, or a bright, uniformly-hued space, like the sky.

At some point in their lives, most people will see floaters in their vision. Floaters are more common in near-sighted individuals at a younger age, and floaters become more frequent as the eyes age. Some people begin seeing floaters as young as their teens or early adulthood, particularly if they have nearsighted vision. What causes floaters in the first place, and should they be a concern?

Floaters are caused by a number of reasons, the most common one being due to normal wear and tear as the eye ages. The virtreous, the jelly-like liquid that fills most of the center of the eye, naturally degenerates as the eye ages, leading to the occurence of floaters. Most floaters are easily ignored, and this condition isn’t serious.

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Other causes of floaters may require surgical intervention, however. Some floaters are caused by a tear in the retina, which may or may not result in surgery to prevent the retina from detachment. Some retinal tears heal on their own, whereas the more serious ones do require minor surgery to prevent the retina from detaching from the eye. Due to the retinal damage, floaters often occur.

Floaters are also caused by blood seepage in the eye from abnormal blood vessel growth. This abnormal growth leads to hemorrages in the eye (one or more) and can result in vision problems and scarring that can cause the retina to shrink, warp, wrinkle, or drag. In cases like these, surgery is usually the protocol to prevent further scarring on the retina, vision loss, and retinal detachment. Again, due to the damage of the retina, floaters are often a result.

Some floaters are caused by inflammatory diseases of the eye, and treatments used to manage the inflammation typically do not make the floaters disappear. In fact, there is no “cure” for floaters; rather, people tend to learn to ignore the floaters overall and treatment for floaters is not for the floaters themselves, but moreso for the conditions that may cause them.

So if you’ve ever had a floater cross your line of vision, aside any possible medical eye emergencies, you likely needn’t worry about them. While floaters may be a sign of retinal damage or hemorraging in the eye, floaters will most likely not be your main concern, or first the noticeable symptom if anything serious is at hand. Overall, floaters are normal, and will never entirely go away. They are just a part of the eye as it ages.

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