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Eye Floaters and Spots

Eye Floaters and Spots

If you see specks or what appears to be debris, or perhaps pieces of lint floating in your vision, these are “floaters”. They are usually harmless. They are usually more noticeable when looking at a plain background, like a white wall or clear sky.

Floaters are clumps of gel-like cells inside the vitreous – the clear, jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. Floaters look like webs, specks, strands, and other shapes. What you are seeing are actually the shadows of floaters cast on the retina, the light-sensitive inner lining of the back eye panel.

Symptoms of Spots or Floaters
With a special eye light, your doctor will detect floaters in your eyes even if you don’t notice them yourself. If a shadowy shape or spot passes in your field of vision or near the side, you are seeing a floater. Because they are inside your eye and suspended within the gel-vitreous, they move with your eyes as you scan and try to see them.

What Causes The Spots or Floaters?
Some floaters are present forever as part of the eye’s development. Others appear over time.

In middle age, the gel-like vitreous begins to liquefy and shrinks. Some parts of the vitreous form clumps or strands inside the eye. The vitreous pulls away from the back of the eye causing a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). PVD is a common cause of floaters.
Floaters are more common:

  • With nearsightedness
  • After cataract or other eye surgery
  • During or after inflammation in the eye
  • With age

Treatment for Spots and Floaters
As mentioned above, most spots and floaters are harmless and are merely annoying. Most floaters become less noticeable over time, as gravity causes them to drift to the bottom of the eye and out of the line of sight. Retinal specialists can perform surgery to remove floaters, but this should be advised only in rare cases, as the surgery has significant risks.

Flashes of Light
Flashes of light are usually due to mechanical stimulation of photoreceptors when the gel-like vitreous “pulls” on the light-sensitive retina. They may be an early warning sign predicting a detached retina – a serious problem which could lead to blindness if not treated immediately.

Some experiences of light flashes appear as jagged lines or “wavy heat” in both eyes, lasting 10-20 minutes. These types of flashes are usually caused by a spasm of the blood vessels in the brain, also called a migraine. If a headache follows the flashes, these are known as migraine headaches. Jagged lines or “heat waves” however can  occur without a headache. These light flashes are called an ophthalmic, or ocular, migraine-a migraine without a headache.

Are Spots Flashes, or Floaters Emergencies?
The sudden appearance of a large floater or several floaters at once, especially if accompanied by flashes of light or other vision disturbances, could indicate a retinal detachment or other serious problem in the eye. A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009 found that one in seven people with the sudden presence of eye floaters and flashes will have a retinal tear or detachment. If you suddenly see floaters, visit your eye doctor immediately. Early detection and treatment of retinal tears or detachments is critical.