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Do Floaters Mean Something is Wrong?

It’s no surprise, but did you know that half of Americans don’t have the optimal 20/20 vision range?

That’s right! And for many of these people, it could be hard to see things that are either far or near. Some also have blurred vision due to astigmatism.

But farsightedness, nearsightedness, and astigmatism are only three common vision problems. According to experts, as many as two-thirds of US adults suffer from eye or vision concerns.

And while many don’t consider “eye floaters” as problems, they can, in fact, be a sign of poor eye health.

That’s because many eye floater causes are serious eye diseases and injuries. What’s worse, some of these causes can lead to permanent vision loss.

So, what then are the primary causes of those annoying floating specks in your vision? Do they warrant an emergency trip to the Ophthalmologist?

We’ll answer all these questions in this post, so keep reading to learn all about eye floaters!

Breaking Down Floaters and Why They Occur in the First Place

“Eye floaters” can refer to the tiny, wispy, floating spots in one’s vision. To some people, they may also look like loose cobwebs or thin strings swimming around the eye. In many cases, they look like white blobs or strands, but they can also appear to be a black speck in the eye.

A lot of people will experience floaters at one point or another in their lifetime. That’s because most eye floaters are a common symptom of aging.

Age-related floaters result from changes to the vitreous. This is the gel-like substance that fills the eyeballs and allows them to keep their round shape.

About 25% of people aged 60 and older experience these vitreous changes. These changes also affect as many as two-thirds of people aged 80 and up.

As you age, the vitreous becomes “runny”, and it ends up separating from the eyeballs. This leads to the substance losing its consistency or viscosity. As more time passes, it turns into debris as it clumps up and becomes stringy.

This debris can then block some of the light that passes through and enters your eye. As a result, minuscule shadows form, which are actually the “floaters” that you see.

Most of the time, these floaters aren’t accompanied by pain or other symptoms. They also usually go away on their own after a few weeks.

This is why to many people, eye floaters are more of a nuisance than a cause of concern. However, those specks could be a sign of bigger problems, such as serious eye injuries. They could also be an indication of more serious age-related diseases.

Below you’ll find some of the more serious eye conditions that can cause floaters to appear.

Posterior Vitreous Detachment

Eye floaters can also result from a condition called Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD). This occurs when the vitreous detaches from the retina, found at the very back of the eye. Up to a quarter of people aged 50 to 59 can develop this condition

We’ve mentioned above that the vitreous liquefies as a person ages. Over time, it will shrink so much that it will no longer fill the space in the vitreous cavity. This shrinkage then forces the gel to separate from the retina.

When this happens, the remaining, shriveling gel can create folds. Light can’t pass through these vitreous parts, so they once again form shadows. These shadows can appear as the “floating” things in your field of vision.

PVD, in most cases, doesn’t cause serious vision loss and the floaters usually subside. However, serious complications, such as retinal tears and holes, may still occur. These are instances of PVD that require immediate treatment.

Retinal Tears or Breaks

In most cases of PVD, no other symptoms arise aside from the floaters. There are some people, however, whose vitreous is much more “sticky”. This abnormal adhesiveness can then make it harder for the gel to separate from the retina.

The “stickier” the vitreous is, the more force it needs to separate from the retina. This may then result in the retina developing a tear or a hole.

Retinal tears or breaks are common retinal diseases often associated with eye floaters. These tiny specks can form when the tear causes the fibers in the retina to become “frayed”. When light hits these frayed fibers, their shadows appear like floaters.

Some of the torn fibers can also separate from the retina itself. Again, this debris can swim around in your eye and fill your vision with floaters.

While more common in older adults, young people are also at great risk of giant retinal tears. Trauma to the face and eye can also cause these retinal damages.

It is important to seek medical attention if the onset of your floaters is sudden. The same goes if you’ve noticed a considerable increase in your floaters. These could be symptoms of a retinal tear, which could be an emergency situation.

You’d have to undergo a comprehensive retinal exam to confirm if you have a retinal tear. Early diagnosis of retinal breaks can prevent them from progressing to retinal detachment.

Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment, a vision-threatening retinal disease, is another possible culprit behind floaters. Yes, it can rob you of your eyesight, which is why you should never ignore floaters and flashes.

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from the surface of the back wall of the eye. This surface is the retina’s source of oxygen-rich blood and nutrients. So, when the retina detaches from this part, it stops receiving nourishment.

The most common type of retinal detachment is rhegmatogenous retinal detachment (RRD). Every year, about one in 10,000 people develop RRD.

RRD results from a retinal break (such as with PVD) that allows fluid to fill up the subretinal space. This fluid that collects beneath the retina then dislodges it from the back wall of the eye.

Left untreated, retinal detachment can cause blurry vision and ultimately, permanent vision loss.

If you notice a veil within your vision along with floaters and flashes, call your eye doctor ASAP. These three are common signs of retinal detachment.

Posterior Uveitis

Posterior uveitis occurs when the choroid, the uvea’s very back part, becomes inflamed. The uvea is the fibrous tissue that safeguards the eyeball and serves as its enclosure.

When the uvea becomes swollen, it can affect the optic nerve, the retina, or both. In many cases, there’s no pain, only floaters and reduced vision. Although rare, posterior uveitis still affects up to 175,000 people in the US.

Left untreated, this condition can lead to permanent vision loss. It can also increase your risks for glaucoma and cataracts.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common complications of diabetes. In fact, more than two in five diabetic Americans have some form of this condition. 

Diabetic retinopathy is a serious vision-threatening condition. It damages the blood vessels of the retina, causing the vessels to leak blood and fluids. People who’ve had diabetes for a long time are more prone to diabetic retinopathy.

Floaters are a common symptom of this condition, which is due to the blood and fluid leaks. Those floating specks can actually be tiny droplets of blood or other liquids. Aside from floaters, distorted vision is also common in diabetic retinopathy patients.

All These Causes Warrant Immediate Attention

There you have it, your ultimate guide to eye floater causes and the real risks that they carry. While a few of these tiny specks may just be a bother, seeing a lot of them could mean something’s wrong. That’s why you should never ignore floaters, especially if they appear suddenly or if you see a lot of them.

It’s also because of these risks that comprehensive eye exams are vital to your eye health. Through these tests, your doctor can pinpoint the cause of those “annoying” floaters. From there, your Ophthalmologist can develop a treatment plan to preserve your vision.

Have you been seeing a lot of these tiny specks or stringy things in your field of vision? If so, then please get in touch with our ophthalmologists as soon as you can. Those floaters may already be an indication of serious eye diseases.