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What are eye floaters and how to get rid of them
Medically reviewed by Alastair Lockwood on 2 December 2020
Eye floaters are various shaped particles in your field of vision that become more noticeable when you look at a bright and plain background such as the blue sky or a white piece of paper. When you move your eyes to try and look at them, they will quickly disappear from your visual field.
Eye Floaters most often occur as a result of ageing when the gel-like substance in the eye (vitreous humor) turns to more of a liquid substance. Shadows on the retina are then cast when the microscopic fibres in the vitreous clump. These shadows are referred to as eye floaters. Other rare causes include blood from uncontrolled diabetic eye disease or clumps of inflammatory cells if the eye develops uncontrolled inflammation.
Eye Floaters in vision usually occur between the ages of 50-75 and are more likely to appear if you’ve undergone cataract surgery or are near-sighted. Your brain is very good at disregarding redundant information, so often you learn to forget about them over time.
Eye Floaters - Flashing Lights in Eyes
The contraction of vitreous gel over time can cause mechanical irritation of the retina, the “film” in the camera, if you think of an eye as a traditional camera. The retina manifests its irritation with “flashing lights” rather than pain. If the gel coalesces and falls away without significant consequence this is known as a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). If the adhesions between the gel and the retina are too strong, then it can be the retina that gives way instead, i.e. a Retinal detachment. If the retina comes away, and is not treated, then this can lead to complete loss of sight.
What is often difficult to know if you see new floaters or new flashing lights is whether this is simply a PVD or retinal detachment. The only way to be sure is an eye examination of your retina. If you see flashes of light in your peripheral vision, you should contact your eye care specialist promptly.
When should I worry about eye floaters?
Eye Floaters are usually nothing to be concerned about and do not signify anything dangerous. You should worry about eye floaters if you notice a sudden increase. You should see your doctor if you experience the following:
- New or increased frequency of flashing lights or floaters
- A dark shadow or curtain in one side of your peripheral vision
- New changes in vision
What are eye floaters a symptom of?
It is crucial that you monitor your eye health by scheduling regular eye exams with your optician. This can prevent more severe eye conditions from escalating and causing vision loss.
It is possible to mistake a visual aura for an eye floater. Visual auras or migraines come accompanied with a headache and appear in a similar way to what you see when you look through a kaleidoscope. They last for a few minutes before completely disappearing.
How can eye floaters be prevented?
Age-related eye floaters cannot be prevented; however, you can avoid eye floaters caused by injury by wearing eyewear to protect your eyes when carrying out tasks that require the use of dangerous tools or when playing certain sports. Wearing sunglasses such as wrap sunglasses are an excellent choice for sports such as golf and tennis.
You can reduce the likelihood of getting floaters as a result of a vitreous haemorrhage caused by diabetic retinopathy. Improving your blood sugar levels to control hyperglycaemia will do this.
What is the treatment for eye floaters?
There are no proven methods deemed as safe for treating eye floaters. The brain does learn to forget about them, however. If caused specifically by diabetic eye disease or inflammation then specialist treatment appropriate for this should be undertaken.
Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs can be used in cases where eye floaters are the result of white blood cells in the vitreous, caused by infection. The drugs will reduce these white blood cells.
Some ophthalmologists have suggested that you can get rid of eye floaters by breaking them up with a YAG laser; however, there is no conclusive evidence to confirm the safety or effectiveness of this procedure. In addition to this, laser therapy is a risky treatment and can pose a threat to your vision.
Surgery can be undertaken to remove the vitreous; this procedure is called a vitrectomy and is used when there is a large quantity of non-clearing blood or inflammatory debris in the eye. Treating the typical type of eye floaters with a vitrectomy can potentially cause cataracts to form or retinal detachment. There is also a small but significant risk of bleeding or infection from surgery.
Do eye floaters go away?
Eye floaters will last forever and will never completely go away; however, the black spots in vision sometimes become less visible over time as the brain adapts, getting used to them. This process is known as neuro-adaptation. As time progresses, eye floaters tend to shrink in size and density and become lighter. They can also move position in the eye, reducing the appearance of the shadow effect.