Floaters are little “cobwebs” or specks that float in your field of vision. They are small, dark, shadowy shapes that can look like spots, thread-like strands, or squiggly lines.
Floaters are created when the vitreous humor in our eyes contracts over time. As it contracts, cells may clump together and cast shadows on the eye’s retina. These shadows are known as “floaters”.
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.
Typically, a floater will not significantly change its shape or size during a patient’s lifetime.
Floaters are visible only because they do not remain fixed in location. If floaters were still instead of floating around, for example, your brain would automatically ignore them and you would never consciously see them. The brain often does this with things positioned both in and outside of the eye. For example, you do not perceive the blood vessels in your eye, which are fixed in location close to the retina, because your brain ignores them.
Whilst a floater remains dormant in your eye, it is suspended in the vitreous humour and will therefore drift in line with your eye movement – and hence it often appears to be “moving”.
You can see floaters better when looking at a bright blue sky because your pupils contract to a very small size, which in turn makes floaters more pronounced.
Whilst floaters do not general affect visual acuity, they negatively affect a patient’s quality of vision.
Attached floaters can cause damage to the retina, effectively “tugging” on it, which can result in a retinal tear. If not treated, a retinal tear can result in a retinal detachment.
If you suddenly see a large number of floaters, possibly accompanied by some light flashes, you should see your ophthalmologist immediately. These symptoms may be indicative of a retinal detachment.