Are Eye Floaters Normal
Think about it: has there ever been a time when you could “see” a small speck, squiggle, or dot floating along in the air only to have it dart away when you try to focus on it? Or, have you ever “seen” lightning streaks or flickering lights when you knew they weren’t really happening? If you have, you are one of the millions who have experienced the common occurrence that is referred to as eye floaters and flashes.
According to the experts, seven out of every ten people will experience eye floaters and flashes at some point. These are just a typical part of aging and, in most cases, they are not thought to be a serious medical problem. However, if you experience sudden onset of eye floaters or flashes, it could be indicative of a retinal tear. If you don’t have a retinal tear treated immediately, it could result in losing your eyesight.
Reasons for Eye Floaters and Flashes
According to scientists, our eyes are filled with vitreous gel, which is a clear substance that helps our eyeballs to keep their shape. The gel is clear, which allows light to pass through the retina, which contains the nerve cells that process visual signals received from light. Eye floaters/flashes are caused by normal changes in the vitreous gel due to the aging process.
As we get older, the vitreous gel begins to thicken and shrink, due to the natural aging process. This results in particles forming in the gel. The particles will block the light as it passes through your eyes, which results in shadows being cast on your retina. These are seen as floaters which can be caused by:
- Formation of clumps of protein within the vitreous gel. These will typically appear as circles, cobwebs, squiggles, or tadpoles. They will permanently remain in your vitreous gel and most people can simply ignore them.
- Bursting of retinal blood vessels, due to the vitreous gel shrinkage. Eye floaters that result from this minor hemorrhaging appear as little black dots in your vision, which look like a cloud of gnats or smoke. Typically, as the blood is reabsorbed within your body, these will subside- but you may have them for several months.
- Pulling away of the vitreous gel from the retina, known as PVD- or posterior vitreous detachment. Debris from the detachment will drift around in the vitreous gel, causing floaters that look like a mist, a veil, or cobwebs that obscure part of your vision. Most of the time, the detachment is clean and you will find that the floaters are less noticeable within a few months.
On the other hand, eye flashes are the result of:
- Thickened vitreous gel rubbing/pulling on the retina. These appear as light flickers or streaks of lightening. You may notice these off and on over a period of weeks/months and will typically fade with time. If you have flashes in conjunction with floaters, you could be experiencing PVD.
- Indicative of an oncoming migraine headache. These flashes typically appear as heat shimmers or jagged lines and will last for a period of approximately 20 minutes.
Best Treatment: Time
You can see eye floaters/flashes best when you are looking at a background that is light/plain-colored. Try it: take a look at a white background, empty wall, or clear blue sky and close one eye. If you can see something floating around, chances are that you have found an eye floater.
In most cases, eye floaters and flashes don’t require treatment. The flashes will typically fade and most of the time, people get adjusted to having floaters and don’t see them anymore because their brain learns how to filter them out. If you have an annoying floater in the center of your field of vision, you can roll your eye around to get it out of the way.
If the floaters and flashes are really bothersome, you might want to consider speaking with your specialist about doing a vitrectomy. This is a procedure in which the vitreous gel is removed and replaced with a sterile solution. However, this is a major surgery and most people don’t think the risks are worth it.
There are some cases in which the tugging/pulling of the vitreous gel can result in a serious medical condition, leading to retinal tearing and detachment. If this happens, you could partially- or even completely- lose your vision. The symptoms of retinal detachment include the following:
- Sudden increase in flashes/floaters that you are experiencing- or the sudden appearance for the first time
- Loss of peripheral vision- appears much like a shadow/curtain that gradually moves toward the center of your vision
- Blurry/distorted vision
If you do have retinal detachment, be aware that surgery is your only option for correcting it and it is critical to have it done immediately to preserve your vision. If you have any of these symptoms, see your physician right away.
Experts say that seven out of ten people experience floaters and/or flashes at some point in their lives. This is a very common occurrence that is a normal part of the aging process. However, if you have floaters and/or flashes in conjunction with other symptoms, you might need to see an eye specialist.