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When Is It Time to See a Doctor for Floaters?

Eye, Cornea, Cross linking, Corneal transplant, Keratoconus

Have you ever had a tiny object hover just inside your line of sight, only to slip off to the side when you try to focus on it? A tiny dot or a squiggly, squirmy line that looks kind of like a microscopic tadpole? That’s a floater, and pretty much everyone has them — in fact, as you get older, you’ll probably notice them more frequently. Floaters are tiny bits of debris located inside the gel-filled interior of your eye, an area called the vitreous humor, and they’re almost always harmless. Sometimes, they look like tiny flecks, other times like cobwebs or swirly lines. They don’t cause pain, and in most cases, they’re not a cause for alarm. But there are some situations where floaters could indicate a much more serious eye-related problem. Here’s how to tell when it’s time to call Paragon Eye Center for an appointment.

What causes floaters?

Most of us have a few floaters, even when were young. These tiny bits of debris are suspended inside the gel-like vitreous. When the sun enters your eye, your floaters block the light, preventing it from reaching the light-sensitive retina at the back of your eye. As a result, they cast tiny shadows on your retina, and that’s what you “see.” When there’s more light, floaters tend to become more visible, which is why you often see a lot more floaters when you look at a cloudless sky or another bright background. The floaters appear to drift aimlessly around because they’re suspended in gel — they’re not “anchored” to anything.

As we get older, the gel-like material inside the vitreous breaks down and becomes more liquid-like. Tiny fibers inside the vitreous start to cling to each other, forming little clumps. These clumps form new floaters, which is the main reason why they become more common with age. Normally, these extra floaters appear gradually, as the natural changes occur inside the vitreous. And in these instances, floaters (although annoying) aren’t anything to worry about.

When to call the doctor

Sometimes, though, floaters can be an indication of a much more serious eye condition going on “in the background.” Generally, there are three significant changes you should look for:

Most often, these symptoms occur in one eye, but sometimes, they can occur in both at the same time.

Often, these symptoms are a sign of a posterior vitreous detachment, which is just what it sounds like — the vitreous begins to detach from the retina at the back of your eye. As it detaches, it pulls and tugs on the retina, and in some cases, it can tear the retina from the back of your eye, causing what’s called a retinal detachment. When the retina detaches from the eye, it no longer receives the nutrients it needs to function. Without prompt care, you could lose vision in that eye.

Floaters and flashes can also be caused by other problems, like eye infections and inflammation or the presence of a tumor. Bleeding inside your eye can also cause floaters and flashes, as well as permanent vision loss if it’s not treated promptly. Eye trauma, recent eye surgery including cataract surgery, and some eye medications can also cause these symptoms.

While problems like vitreous detachment and retinal detachment are more common among people age 50 and older, your risk of these problems is also increased if you have diabetes or if you’re very nearsighted.

Bottom line: While a few floaters generally are nothing to be concerned about, if you notice a sudden increase in floaters, flashes of bright lights, loss of peripheral vision, or other uncommon or unusual symptoms like eye pain, don't delay treatment. Call the office right away to schedule an emergency visit. And remember: Routine eye exams are one of the best ways to prevent vision loss and other vision and eye problems. To schedule your eye exam at Paragon Eye Center, contact the practice today.

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