Floaters are small, semi-transparent particles within the eye that are noticed by the patient when they fall in their line of sight. Our eye is filled with a jelly-like substance called vitreous to keep its round shape and is clear. As we age, the vitreous becomes more liquified and the jelly traps protein particles and other matter inside the eye.

When these particles fall directly in the line of sight and lighting conditions are just right, you will see them shadow of them reflected on the retina. It is normal for people to see a few floaters now and then. People who are nearsighted tend to have more than people who are farsighted. Also as people age they tend to see more floaters due to changes in the vitreous.


Flashes of Light with Floaters

At times, people may notice floaters occuring and then have a flash of light in their vision as well. This usually occurs when the vitreous jelly begins to shrink and tugs on the retina. This tugging of the retina causes the retinal cells to fire which causes the flash of light to occur. The flash of light is usually only for a brief second or two and disappears.

Posterior Vitreous Detachment

A posterior vitreous detachment occurs in most patients in their 5th to 6th decade of life. Around this time, the vitreous in the eye begins to liquify and shrink. As it does this, there are several areas that the vitreous is attached strongly to the retina and optic nerve. Patients will see a small dot in their central vision in many cases. Other will see dots and strands and some explain it as a "cobweb" like appearance in her vision.

In most cases, the vitreous pops off of the retina or optic nerve without complication. But in some, it may cause a small tear which leads to fluid slowly seeping underneath the retina and within a short period of time can detach the retina. This is very similar to a small hole in a pool liner and after a while water seeps into the hole and pulls the liner away from the shell of the pool.

Holes, Tears and Retinal Detachments

If the vitreous tugs too hard on the retina, it could potentially cause a small tear or hole in the retina which could lead to a retinal detachment if not treated. Surgical treatment is needed within a few days to prevent severe and permanent vision loss if there is a tear, hole or retinal detachment.

If you have noticed an increase in floaters and/or flashes of light in your vision, you should call your doctor immediately and be examined.