Floaters are irregular shapes which you can see drifting across their vision. The form of these is very variable – they may appear as small dots, tadpoles or irregularly shaped strands. At Simon Kleyn Optometrists we recommend that new floaters are investigated urgently to check for retinal breaks and tears or possible inflamation in the eye.
What Causes Floaters
The eye is filled by a jelly-like substance, the vitreous. As the vitreous ages it liquifies, this is called syneregis. Strands of a protein called collagen become visible within it. These strands swirl gently when the eye moves, giving rise to the perception of floaters.
In some people, usually over the age of 40 and especially with significantly nearsighted eyes, the vitreous can separate from the retina. When this happens it tugs on the retina, causing the eye to see flashes of bright white lights, this is called photopsia. An increase in floaters can be seen at the same time. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment. Occasionally, when the vitreous liquifies it can cause retinal holes or tears which may lead to retinal detachment.
Are Floaters Serious?
Generally people should not be concerned about seeing one or two floaters in their vision, particularly if they have been there for some time. A sudden increase in the number of floaters, can be a sign of sight threatening retinal detachment. If you see this you should make an urgent appointment for an eye examination or go to A&E.
Can Floaters be Removed?
It is technically possible to remove floaters by performing an operation to remove the vitreous; a vitrectomy. Unfortunately, this operation carries significant risks to sight because of the possible complications, which include retinal detachment and cataract. Most eye surgeons are therefore reluctant to recommend this surgery unless there is a threat to sight.