Floaters are tiny spots that randomly appear in your vision. According to the Mayo Clinic, “they may look like black or gray specks, strings, or cobwebs that drift about when you move your eyes and appear to dart away when you try to look at them directly.” They tend to be more visible when you look at bright surfaces such as computer screens, white paper, or a blue sky.
But where do they come from in the first place? Are they harmful? And can they be treated?
Floaters, while an apt description, are actually formed from vitreous, the gel-like substance that makes up around 80 percent of the eyeball (see diagram) and helps to maintain the round shape of the eye. As we begin to age, it begins to shrink. During this process, microscopic vitreous fibers begin to clump together and they then form the floaters.
People who are nearsighted, those who have diabetes, or folks who have had cataract operations tend to have more floaters than others (National Eye Institute). While not harmful in and of themselves, as with most things, a sudden increase in their volume – to where they begin to affect your vision – can be problematic. If you lose your peripheral vision or see flashes of light with the increased floaters, you may have a retinal detachment, which is a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention.
In cases where the floaters are affecting vision and can no longer be simply ignored, a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy can be performed. In this surgery, the vitreous gel is removed from the eye and replaced with a salt solution. As with most surgeries, the risk of complications must be fully considered as your sight could be adversely affected.