a. Wisps of cloud moving across the sky
b. Air-filled mattresses for summertime fun on the lake
c. Insects that have accidentally fallen into your lemonade
d. None of the above
If you chose “d,” then you are correct.
If you’ve ever noticed small specks or shadowy shapes moving in your field of vision, then yes, you have seen what are commonly called “floaters.” Floaters are not optical illusions, but rather, tiny bits of gel that occur within the eye itself.
They can appear in many forms, such as dots, lines, particles, strands, or webs, and because they are inside your eye, they move with your eyes when you look at them (thus the name floaters).
Floaters follow eye movements, such as blinking, and stop a few seconds after the eyes cease moving. They are most apparent when you are looking at a plain background: for example, a blank wall or blue sky. People may experience one or several floaters in one eye or both. Floaters are not the same as the spots you see after looking at intense light, such as from a camera flash.
What Causes Floaters?
Inside your eye, there is a clear, gel-like fluid called the vitreous. As you age, the vitreous begins to liquefy and contract. Some of the gel in your vitreous may form clumps or strands inside the eye. Small flecks of protein or other material that were trapped in the vitreous when your eye was formed can also cause floaters.
The floaters you see are not the clumps or strands themselves, but actually the shadows these cast on the retina, the light-sensitive part of the eye. The retina then sends visual signals to the brain, resulting in an image.
Floaters may also result from eye surgery, eye disease, or crystal-like deposits that form in the vitreous.
If I Have Floaters, Should I Be Worried?
Floaters are a natural part of the eye’s aging process. Most spots and floaters in the eye, although annoying, are harmless. Many will fade over time and become less bothersome.
However, the sudden appearance of a significant number of floaters, especially if they are accompanied by flashes of light, could indicate a detached retina or other serious vision problems, such as eye inflammation, high blood pressure, or hemorrhaging caused by diabetes. See your doctor if you are experiencing light flashes.
Is There a “Cure” for Floaters?
There are no medications available that are effective in treating most floaters, nor will your eye exercises help, as floaters are not caused by near-point or other muscular stress. People with floaters due to inflammatory eye diseases may be helped by medicines to treat the inflammation; however, the floaters may remain after the treatment. Surgery to remove floaters is rare and only suggested for very severe cases.
Besides ignoring them, one way to deal with floaters is to move your eye around when one appears in your field of vision. This causes the fluid inside your eye to shift and allows the floater to move out of the way. Looking up and down may be more helpful for moving floaters than looking side to side.