Our eyes are filled with a gel-like substance called the vitreous. When we are born and in our younger years, the vitreous has the consistency of a formed gel, but as we get older, the gel begins to liquefy. When vitreous particles which are not yet dissolved float around in the liquefied portions of vitreous, we perceive them as “floaters.”
Floaters typically appear as little dots, strings or “cobwebs” that float and drift around in your eyes. They are most apparent in bright light, especially against a white or solid background, such as a computer screen or the blue sky. Sometimes people will swat at what they think is a bug flying around them when the “bug” is actually inside their eye! When we perceive floaters, we are not actually seeing the small particles of vitreous; instead, we see the shadow that is cast on the retina as light passes through our eye and is partially blocked by the floater.
When should I worry about my floaters?
If you experience a sudden shower of many floaters or you are seeing quick flashes of light in the periphery (side) of your vision, please call our office immediately for an examination. Often, the sudden appearance of floaters and flashes indicates that the vitreous gel is starting to pull away from its attachments at the retina. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). PVDs are very common as we get older. PVDs on their own are not dangerous; however, 15% of people who have a PVD will develop a retinal tear. If not treated, a retinal tear can lead to a retinal detachment, a vision-threatening problem. However, if a retinal tear is found early, the tear can be treated with retinal laser that forms a barricade around the tear to prevent a retinal detachment from occurring.