What Are Eye Floaters?

Eye floaters are those spots, strands, or specks you sometimes see moving around in your eye. Ever wonder what those things might be?

Diagram of the Eye
Courtesy: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

The eye ball is filled with a clear gel known as the vitreous humor. As we age this gel begins to break up and become more liquefied. Pieces of gel floating in the liquid form shadows on the retina, thus creating floaters in the eye, also referred to as vitreous floaters.

Floaters are usually more visible if you look at a light background or the white lit screen on a computer. When you try to follow them, they seem to escape, but in fact they only move when your eye moves.

Floaters in the eye are very common among aging baby boomers and in most cases should not be a cause for worry. However, if you suddenly see many of them or they're accompanied by light flashes, see your eye doctor immediately. It could signal more serious problems.

Vitreous floaters can be caused by broken blood vessels in the case of an eye or head injury. They can also appear after cataract surgery or as a side effect of certain medication, but the most common cause is aging.

Annoying floaters can sometimes be relieved by blinking several times or by rolling the eyes around. Most disappear or fade with time or shift position. They tend to become less bothersome as our brain learns to disregard them.

There is a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy in which the vitreous gel is removed and replaced with a saline solution, silicone oil or a gas. But the risks for complication are great, so the procedure is only performed in extreme cases such as severe bleeding into the vitreous humor or when retinal detachment is involved.

If you follow a healthy aging lifestyle: eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, exercise daily, drink lots of water, avoid alcohol and cigarettes you can greatly reduce the occurrence of floaters.

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