What is That Floating Through Your Eye?
If you’ve begun to notice small dots passing through your field of vision, you may wonder what is happening to your eyes. We call these visual aberrations floaters. They are a common phenomenon that adults over the age of 40 notice, meaning that there is a little something age-related about them. While floaters are a common symptom that most people will experience in their lifetime, it is important to know when they are a mere nuisance and when they are the sign of a bigger problem.
What are eye floaters?
Floaters look differently to many people. For some, a floater may look like a random hair on their eyeball, when there is nothing actually there. Some floaters look like a web of matter floating across the field of vision. Some look like a group of dots moving across the eye. They may appear when we are looking in the distance, especially if the field of vision is relatively blank, like looking at a white wall or the sky.
How can floaters appear when there is nothing physically on the eyeball? Because they are the sign of something inside the eye. Several parts of the eye gain integrity from proteins. Sometimes, proteins can clump together and move through the vitreous humor that makes up the center of the eye, between the cornea and the retina. As we get older, this central area is less gel-like and more water-like. The fluidity of the vitreous then allows clumps of proteins to float through it. When a clump of protein passes between the front of the eye and the cornea, light hits it and causes a shadow to be cast. So, what we are seeing are the shadows of protein flakes in the eye.
Is this dangerous?
Floaters do not seem to cause problems in the eyes or for vision. They are generally a temporary occurrence related only to proteins moving about in the vitreous. As we age, we may see floaters from time to time with periods of clear vision in between. Still, a person who has begun to see floaters should schedule their routine eye exam so their eye doctor can observe their retinal health.
If floaters and flashes of light occur simultaneously and suddenly, they may be a sign of a retinal problem. The sudden onset of visual aberrations sometimes means that the retina has begun to tear or detach from the back of the eye. Retinal tears and detachment can be repaired if treatment is conducted right away. These conditions are considered medical emergencies because, if they are not treated promptly, they may result in vision loss.
Your eye doctor checks much more than your vision during your routine eye exam. To schedule a visit during which we can assess all of the important structures of your eyes, call 713.473.5715.