Floaters and Retinal Detachments
WHAT ARE FLOATERS AND RETINAL DETACHMENTS?
Floaters are specks that float about in your field of vision. They are small, dark, shadowy shapes that can look like spots, thread-like strands, or squiggly lines. They move as your eyes move and seem to dart away when you try to look at them directly. They do not follow your eye movements precisely and usually drift when your eyes stop moving.
Most people have floaters and learn to ignore them; they are usually not noticed until they become numerous or more prominent. Floaters can become apparent when looking at something bright, such as white paper or a blue sky.
The retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the inside of the eye and sends visual messages through the brain’s optic nerve. When the retina detaches, it is lifted or pulled from its normal position. If not promptly treated, retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss.
In some cases, there may be small areas of the retina that are torn. These areas are called retinal tears or retinal breaks and can lead to retinal detachment.
WHAT CAUSES FLOATERS?
Floaters occur when the vitreous, a gel-like substance that fills about 80 percent of the eye and helps it maintain a round shape, slowly shrinks.
As the vitreous shrinks, it becomes somewhat stringy, and the strands can cast tiny shadows on the retina. These are floaters.
In most cases, floaters are part of the natural aging process and are simply an annoyance. They can be distracting at first but eventually tend to “settle” at the bottom of the eye, becoming less bothersome. They usually settle below the line of sight and do not go away completely.
However, there are other, more serious causes of floaters, including infection, inflammation (uveitis), hemorrhaging, retinal tears, and injury to the eye. Anyone with the sudden onset of floaters or flashes in their vision should seek out an evaluation.
WHO IS AT RISK FOR FLOATERS AND RETINAL DETACHMENTS?
Floaters are more likely to develop as we age and are more common in people who are very nearsighted, have diabetes, or who have had a cataract operation.
A retinal detachment may occur at any age, but it is more common in people over age 40. It affects men more than women and Caucasians more than African Americans.
A retinal detachment is also more likely to occur in people who:
- Are extremely nearsighted
- Have had a retinal detachment in the other eye
- Have a family history of retinal detachment
- Have other eye diseases or disorders, such as retinoschisis, uveitis, degenerative myopia, or lattice degeneration
- Have had an eye injury
SYMPTOMS OF RETINAL DETACHMENT?
Symptoms include a sudden or gradual increase in either the number of floaters, which are little “cobwebs” or specks that float about in your field of vision, and/or light flashes in the eye. Another symptom is the appearance of a curtain over the field of vision. A retinal detachment is a medical emergency. Anyone experiencing the symptoms of a retinal detachment should see an eye care professional immediately.