What are floaters?
Many people either have floaters or have heard of floaters, but exactly what they are, where they come, and what can be done about them are questions that patients frequently raise. Floaters are seen as spots, lines, or waves within the field of vision. They are usually somewhat transparent, but can interfere with the vision making a person feel as though there is “dust” or “gnats” or “flies” or “threads” or “cobwebs” floating in front of the eye.
Where are floaters located?
The inside of the eye is filled with a gelatinous see-through substance called the vitreous. The vitreous is typically clear at birth, however as time passes it can become filled with debris from various sources. Anything floating within the vitreous can be considered to be a floater. You can see floaters because as light enters the eye from the outside, the floating particles cast shadows on the retina.
Why do I see floaters at some times and not at other times?
Floaters are typically best seen when there is sufficient light (brighter lights) and when there is a solid background. Therefore they are frequently seen when looking at a clear blue sky on a sunny day. They are also often seen indoors when looking at a white or solid colored wall in a well lit room. They are less noticeable when lights are dim or when there are multiple other colors, objects, or textures in the visual field.
Where do floaters come from?
Floaters can come from a variety of sources. They are often debris which arise from the surrounding retinal or lens capsule tissue. They can be collections of collagen or calcium which were once dissolved in the vitreous gel, but have precipitated out and become solid. They are sometimes due to red blood cells if there is a bleed in the eye from damage to the tissues. For this reason, if a person experiences multiple new floaters appearing suddenly all at the same time, it is very important that they be examined by an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
How are floaters treated?
Most cases of floaters do not require treatment. There are no medications or eye drops that can remove the floating debris on the inside of the eye. A person’s brain will often learn to ignore or “filter out” floaters over the course of many months after they form. Because floaters are floating in the vitreous gel, and move as the eye moves, sometimes gravity can cause them to sink down below the line of sight. Rarely, if there are significant numbers of floaters due to an injury to the eye tissues (bleeding) or if the floaters are so severe that they prevent normal daily functioning (such as driving) then a surgery such as a vitrectomy (removal and cleaning of the vitreous gel) or a vitreolysis (laser application to the floater) may be necessary.