“Floaters” is the term we use for those little black spots or lines you may see moving around—or floating—in and out of your vision. They are a common phenomenon that can happen in both younger and older individuals. Most people will experience this little annoyance by the time they are 70 years of age. However, some people notice them much more than others.
Why do they happen? As we age the vitreous (or “jelly”) in the back of our eyes begins to break down. When light travels through the pupil to the back of the eye, these little free-floating pieces of jelly cast shadows on the retina, causing you to see a black spot or line that moves in and out of your vision. It is a normal change, and usually, over time these floaters will settle, and you will no longer notice them. Another common occurrence that can accompany floaters is the visualization of flashes of light that occur when the vitreous is breaking down and tugs on the retina.
So to answer our original question, what should you do if you see these flashes or floaters? Despite the fact that these are natural occurrences that happen over time, it is important to see an eye care professional – your ophthalmologist or optometrist – for a dilated retinal exam. Why? Because rarely these natural occurrences can be a sign of something much more serious than just the natural aging process. Retinal tears and retinal detachments are vision-threatening conditions that require immediate attention by a retinal specialist. In the event that you see floaters or flashes, schedule an appointment with an eye care professional so they can fully examine the back of your eyes to determine if there is any sign of a retinal tear or detachment. If there is, a referral can be made to a retinal specialist for treatment. If there is no problem noted with the retina, your eye care professional will schedule a repeat dilated exam in about 6-8 weeks to ensure your eyes remain stable. During that time, your doctor will ask you to pay attention to any increase in floaters or flashes, as well as possible changes in your vision, so that if you were to experience any changes, you would know to come in sooner for a follow-up assessment.
More often than not, floaters are just a common experience that poses no real threat to your vision. However, it is important to be fully assessed to ensure your eyes stay healthy for life.
*Please note that this post is to be used as an educational tool, and Dr. Al-Ghoul and the team at Seema Eye Care do not recommend you use this as a substitute for proper eye care. Please contact our office or your nearest eye care facility for medical attention if required.