Many of our patients become aware of ‘floaters ‘or spots in their vision. This is a common phenomena which can vary from being mildly interesting to being extremely bothersome for the patient. But what are they and why do they occur?
Time for some anatomy
Your eyeball is filled with vitreous- a transparent gel. The vitreous consists of fluid and a clear collagen matrix. As we age, collagen breaks down causing the vitreous to become more liquid- like and unstable. This can lead to condensed areas of collagen, free floating throughout the vitreous resulting in specks, spots, lines or ‘cobwebs’ in your vision. The gel may also separate from the retina resulting in an even large floater in your vision.
In the majority of cases, floaters are benign and over time our eye and brain will learn to ignore them. However, there are some cases where they can be sign of more serious conditions such as retinal tear or detachment, eye inflammation or internal eye bleeding.
Retinal tear and detachment
As the vitreous pulls away from the back of the eye, it may create a retinal or blood vessel tear. The traction from this pulling action may stimulate the retina and cause you to see ‘sparks of light ’ in your vision. A torn retina is an opportunity for the retina to detach itself from the outermost lining of the eye which poses a real risk of blindness.
When to seek help
· A sudden onset of floaters – or more than usual
· Flashes of light- often noticed when you enter a darkened room
· A shadow or darkness within your vision.
What will happen?
We will conduct a dilated eye exam- this involves instilling eye drops to relax your pupil enabling a thorough retinal assessment. In most cases, the retina is intact and reassurance will be given, however, if a tear or detachment is detected referral for urgent treatment will be arranged. This may be by way of laser to seal the tear or retinal surgery.
The take home message
Time is crucial with retinal breaks- with the first 24 hours being the optimal time for detection and treatment. So don’t hesitate if you have any sudden visual change or disturbance seek help immediately. And remember we are always more than happy to answer any queries you may have.