Floaters are small condensations of normally clear tissue that ‘float’ about with movement of the eye in the vitreous humour (a jelly like substance) at the back of the eye. They are found in front of the retina (the “photographic plate” at the back of the eye).
How would I recognize floaters?
Floaters are seen in the visual field of the eye, particularly when looking at a bright background e.g. the sky, and can be seen in a number of different shapes and sizes. For example, they may appear as:
- tiny black dots
- a cobweb-like pattern
- small “shadowy” blots
- larger ‘cloud-like’ spots
- long, narrow, wavy or tadpole-like strands
Why do floaters occur?
Floaters most often develop as part of the natural ageing process. They may occur due to separation of the vitreous from the retina. This is referred to as a posterior vitreous detachment or PVD.
They can also occur suddenly due to bleeding into the vitreous or due to the onset of inflammation within the eye (uveitis).
Floaters are usually innocent and do not adversely affect your vision. Sometimes, you may have floaters without noticing them. This is because your brain constantly adapts to changes in your vision, and learns to ignore floaters so that they do not affect your vision. However, in a small minority of patients, floaters can cause visual disturbances that affect their quality of vision. If these symptoms persist and cause significant problems, treatment can be offered. This involves either an operation to remove the vitreous (a vitrectomy), or laser treatment, but these procedures have to be considered very carefully.