Should You Seek Help for Eye Floaters?

Eye floaters are shadows of the cell strands that are present in the vitreous of the eye. Though many floaters do not cause harm to the affected individual, there are some conditions in which an individual should seek physician help, as floaters in these situations could indicate benign diseases.

Some floaters can also be a sign of vision-threatening diseases. When the disease is diagnosed and treated, it can restore eye health and also cure floaters.

Eye floaters (myodesopsias) emerge as a consequence of opacities developed in the vitreous fluid of the eye. Image Credit: Hareluya / Shutterstock
Eye floaters (myodesopsias) emerge as a consequence of opacities developed in the vitreous fluid of the eye.
Image Credit: Hareluya / Shutterstock

Warning signs

Floaters can be due to ocular or non-ocular reasons. In any event, if an individual suddenly experiences any one of the below symptoms, it is a warning sign to consult a physician:

  • New floaters obstructing vision
  • Increase in the number of floaters
  • Light flashes with or without floaters
  • Low vision
  • Shadows in the peripheral vision
  • Dark or gray shapes in the sides of the vision
  • Increase in the size of floaters.
What are those floaty things in your eye? - Michael Mauser

Changes in vitreous

As humans age, the gel-like vitreous humor that maintains the shape of the eye gradually liquefies. Some of the gel-like particles float in the liquid consistency, which causes the retina to cast shadows of these shapes, which leads to the appearance of floaters.

Floaters are most common in old age and are visible in lighter backgrounds. Moreover, floaters might stay in the vision for a few weeks and when the brain gets adapted to seeing the floaters, an individual may not notice them. However, if an individual is over the age of 40 and there are new floaters obstructing the ability of the vision, it is critical to seek medical attention.

Floaters and Flashes. Image Credit: Alila Medical Media / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Alila Medical Media / Shutterstock

Retinal damage

The gel-like vitreous humor will gradually shrink due to age and will detach from the retina, a condition which is referred to as posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). During the detachment process, some debris will stay in the vitreous and could be the cause of floaters.

Usually, the size of the floater is large, like cobwebs, which may block the vision. When the retina is separated from the supporting tissues, patients may not experience pain but will see spots and floaters, light flashes, shadow in the sides of the vision, and blurred vision. When experiencing these symptoms, consultation with a physician is important, as retinal damage can reduce eye vision.

Sometimes, when the vitreous detaches itself from the retina, it can create small holes or tears in the retina. When the tear has disrupted a blood vessel, it can cause vitreous hemorrhage. Under these situations, patients may report impaired vision and red or black spots.

In some patients, the vitreous fluid flows through the torn retina and, when the volume of the fluid increases, the retina will be detached. Individuals may experience a shadow-like floater when they come across retinal detachment in which the superior macula is involved.

Flashes and floaters

When the vitreous humor pulls itself from the retina, flashes are produced. Flashes are typically white, brief, star-like streaks and can be seen in the dark and may or may not be associated with floaters. Moreover, flashes often appear on the sides of the vision.

When migraines are the cause of flashes, the light flash episode will last for about 15–30 minutes. In the case of flashes related to retinal detachment, the episodes last for only a split second. This happens each time the vitreous pulls away from the retina.

The light flash is stopped or may not be prominent when the vitreous is completely detached from the retina. In the event that several floaters are visualized with or without flashes of light, an eye examination should be scheduled promptly, as the cause of the floaters could be PVD.

Medical conditions

Individuals who have previously undergone glaucoma or cataract surgery, as well as patients with retinal detachment in one of the eyes or with weak spots in the retina, eye injuries, and a family history of a detached retina are prone to retinal detachment.

In myopia, which is a condition in which the eye cannot focus the light correctly and images are formed in front of the retina rather than being formed on the retina, floaters are quite common. There are several other medical conditions that can cause floaters; therefore, is important to treat these medical conditions. If these health conditions are left untreated, they may cause damage to the vision.

Uveitis

When there is inflammation in the eye, the structures supplying blood to the retina may be affected. Patients will experience sensitivity to the light, blurred vision, redness and pain in the eye and come across spots and floaters. Treating the affected structures will cure floaters as well.

Diabetes

In diabetics, high levels of blood sugar can damage the retinal blood vessels. In non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy patients, the tiny retinal blood vessels leak and the retina will be swollen. The exudated tiny particles can create floaters.

Under proliferative diabetic retinopathy category, new blood vessels will grow and these delicate structures may break and bleed in the vitreous humor. Individuals might experience dark floaters when the bleeding is less; however, they may lose vision when the bleeding is more.

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: May 8, 2021

Susha Cheriyedath

Written by

Susha Cheriyedath

Susha has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in Chemistry and Master of Science (M.Sc) degree in Biochemistry from the University of Calicut, India. She always had a keen interest in medical and health science. As part of her masters degree, she specialized in Biochemistry, with an emphasis on Microbiology, Physiology, Biotechnology, and Nutrition. In her spare time, she loves to cook up a storm in the kitchen with her super-messy baking experiments.

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