We’ve all seen them – little wispy cob-web looking things, “eye-lashes”, “eye poops”, or “bugs” that never seem to go away. Fear not friends! These are just floaters and they’re harmless. They are often seen when looking at blank walls, bright lights, or the sky. Sometimes they are mobile and other times not so much. I myself saw these as a young child and thought I had super powers – I thought I had microscopic vision and was seeing the bacteria or something (LOL) and learned later on that I was no special at all.
Floaters are simply the clumping of proteins in the vitreous. What we see are actually the shadows that are cast on the retina. That’s why they’re more visible when looking at bright lights, blank walls, or the sky. The vitreous is the jelly inside the eye that helps keep the shape of the eye, supplies nutrients to parts of the eye with no blood flow, removes waste, and ensures the retina is adhering to the back wall of the eye properly. As we age, the proteins may clump and solidify, thus producing floaters. It is normal to have some in one eye and none in the other or more in one eye than the other as each of our eyes are separate entities. Floaters will often move when we move our eyes so if you try to look at them, it doesn’t really work. Unfortunately, there is no way to remove floaters without removing the entire vitreous itself – which is a risky operation that is not worth losing your vision over. When we first see floaters, they will be very apparent and visible as new stimuli to the retina. Over time, the retina will sense that it is something that is part of our normal vision and they will fade from view unless we look for them.
The only time we need to worry about floaters is when we see a whole bunch of them coming over our vision like a “curtain” – this is indicative of a retinal tear, hole, or detachment occurring and needs to be treated ASAP. If this does occur, please go to your nearest optometrist or the emergency if nothing is open. You can lose your vision so it is urgent! Also, if you see a “red-haze” or large wispy hazes that obstruct your vision (floaters should never obstruct your vision), then you should also do the same as what was stated earlier. These are emergencies!
As we age, the vitreous will often detach from the retina. This normally not a problem as long as the viterous doesn’t take any retina with it. Sometimes, bits of vitreous can get stuck and pull on the retina. This can cause people to see flashes as the traction is stimulating the retina (this requires professional treatment). It may take some time, but the vitreous will usually slowly detach itself and lay at the bottom of the eye without causing problems. If the vitreous happens to pull too hard on the retina while detaching, it can cause small holes to develop that require treatment.
Floaters are harmless but can be indicators of more serious conditions when seen in abnormal numbers or colours. The more you know!