It can be disconcerting to see black spots, squiggly lines, or other dark shapes in your visual field, especially because no amount of blinking gets rid of them, and they follow your gaze wherever you look. But are they harmful? Can they put your eyesight at risk?
At Omphroy Eye Care, conveniently located in Aiea, Hawaii, Dr. Luis C. Omphroy and our team specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of visual floaters. We offer same-day evaluations to quickly determine what they are and why you’re seeing them.
While floaters can be startling if you’ve never experienced them before, they’re often just specks in your vitreous humor, a liquid-filled chamber inside your eye, and they’re completely benign. But they can sometimes be a sign of something more serious, so you always need to get them checked out.
Here’s what you need to know.
Floaters occur for a number of different reasons that range from completely harmless to run-to-the-doctor-ASAP severe.
As you age, your body changes, and not always in ways that are enjoyable or comfortable. In the middle of your eye resides a chamber filled with a gel-like vitreous, also known as the vitreous humor.
The floaters you see in your visual field are solidified parts of that humor. When you age, the vitreous naturally begins to shrink, causing the small particles to drift slowly through the medium.
The back of your eye houses the retina, the tissue that takes incoming light and converts it into electrical signals that are sent by the optic nerve to the brain.
When you have floaters in your vitreous, they drift in front of the macula (the central region of the retina) from time to time, casting a shadow or shape. The retina encodes this information along with the rest of what you’re looking at, and your brain then incorporates them into the final image.
Floaters are extremely common, and when the vitreous is the cause, you generally don’t need treatment. While floaters are annoying, you generally get used to them over time. Eventually they settle to the bottom, and you don’t see them as readily.
Posterior uveitis is an inflammation of the back of the eye. It can be caused by an infection, inflammatory disease, or a number of other conditions, and it releases inflammatory debris into the vitreous that you see as floaters.
If Dr. Omphroy diagnoses you with this condition, he can prescribe a course of steroids to calm the inflammation.
When the vitreous pulls on the retina with sufficient force, the retinal tissue can tear. This is an emergency situation, because a tear can precede a retinal detachment. Both can cause vision loss.
When fluid from the inner eye seeps through a retinal tear, the pressure builds until the entire retina pulls away from its supporting tissue, causing a retinal detachment.
Retinal detachments often happen suddenly, such as with a blow to the head from a car accident or a sports injury.
In addition to a greater-than-normal level of floaters, detachments produce symptoms that include flashes of light and shadows obscuring your vision.
A bleed into the vitreous body can be caused by many things, including hypertension, blocked blood vessels, and an eye injury.
It also occurs often with diabetic retinopathy, which weakens the blood vessels in your retina. That’s why diabetics especially should get regular eye exams. In this case, the floaters you see are the blood cells in the vitreous humor.
Most floaters are due to age-related vitreous detachments, and in those cases, treatment is a wait-and-see affair. If the floaters affect your ability to see clearly, Dr. Omphroy can offer you laser treatment to disrupt them or vitrectomy surgery that removes the vitreous body.
If a retinal tear is the cause, Dr. Omphroy may use either a laser procedure or cryotherapy (freezing) to prevent progression.
If the retina has become detached, there are a number of surgical options for repair. Dr. Omphroy decides which is most appropriate given the exact nature of the detachment.
Can floaters put your eyesight at risk? Generally, no, but it’s important to set up an urgent or same-day appointment with Dr. Omphroy to determine their cause. Give us a call. Don’t leave your vision to chance.