The truth about eye floaters

The truth about eye floaters

You know those flecks that every so often drift into your line of vision? Those are called floaters.

“Almost everyone has experienced floaters,” says Dr. Harit Bhatt, an ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. Yet most people don’t know what they are, what causes them and most importantly, if they’re cause for concern.

Dr. Bhatt describes our eye as working like a camera. In the front part of the eye, just like in a camera, we have a lens to help focus. In the back part of the eye, where the film is in a camera, is the retina, or the “film” of the eye.

“We have to have something in the middle to give our eye some substance so that’s where floaters come in,” explains Dr. Bhatt. “In the middle, we have a gel-like material called the vitreous gel or jelly. When we are young, this gel is uniform in consistency. As we all age, this vitreous gel begins to degenerate and liquefy. This degeneration is what we notice as floaters. These floaters cast a shadow on the retina (film of the eye), which we perceive as floaters.”

Other causes of floaters that are accompanied by symptoms like flashes of light or a shadow in your vision can indicate something more serious like a retinal tear or detachment, says Bhatt. “We recommend that anyone with floaters get checked by an ophthalmologist,” he says.

To check for any conditions inside the eye, an ophthalmologist performs a dilated exam of the eyes “so we can look all the way to the back part of the eye and see if it’s just the vitreous gel causing problem or if there are any issues like retinal holes, tears or detachment,” says Dr. Bhatt.

If a condition related to floaters is serious, it may require surgery, but Dr. Bhatt says that surgery is determined on a case-by-case basis.

“If it’s just the gel, we don’t recommend surgery,” he says. “In rare cases, such as when a patient’s job may need perfect unobscured vision, or if a patient is truly debilitated by floaters, surgery can be a treatment option,” explains Dr. Bhatt.

Since surgery for floaters when no serious condition exists is not recommended, you’re probably wondering what can be done. Unfortunately, not a whole lot, says Dr. Bhatt.

He explains that over time the “floaters will become less noticeable as the vitreous gel continues to degenerate. This process can take months to years, and most people will always have some floaters.”

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  1. I am still not sure what floater are based on the explanation in the article. I sometimes get these, what appears to be, transparent cloud-like spots that move from one side of my eye to next. It doesn’t distort my vision, in fact, they always occur when I’m driving and, tyically, in the mornings, though, not every morining. Are these floaters?

    • Hi, Sue,

      Yes, what you are experiencing are probably floaters. If they begin to interfere with your vision, you may want to consult an ophthalmologist.

  2. I’m not sure if I have floaters or something else. After my cataract surgeries in Dec. ’08 and Jan. ’09, I have noticed something that resembles looking at a group of rectangular cells in a microscope. These groups are seen in the upper 1/3 of each eye and will travel across the eye when I move my eye. Most often I see them in bright light. My surgeon has dilated my eyes and says it is not a problem, but I still wonder why there is such a large area. My idea of floaters was A SMALL fleck floating around, not a mass of film.

  3. If you don’t know what a floater is, it can be really scary. I had some a few years ago, they were large and almost totally blocked by vision. Scared the heck out me, and within a couple of hours it went away. Luckily I was able to get into the doctor right away.

  4. There are 2 types of floaters. One type is PVD (common and found in older people), and the other type, less common, is the often more problematic type of floaters found in younger people.

    They can be more problematic for a few reasons:

    1. While they are extremely annoying (maybe even more so than than many types of PVD type floaters), eye doctors generally CANNOT see them well or at all during examination due to the position in the eye (very posterior). They are nevertheless debilitating because the floaters’ position so close to the retina magnifies their size (this is a well known phenomena).

    2. These types floaters can tend to be distributed over the entire visual field; thus no movement of the eye will help provide relief.

    3. Younger people tend to be more active and are in the process of building their career. It’s very possible that debilitating eye floaters will present greater challenges to the younger cohort.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.