Something floating past your eyes?

The squiggly lines in your vision might be a sign of a serious condition


Have you ever seen little spots or specks that flash past your field of vision? Dr Andre Horak, a highly experienced general ophthalmologist, cataract and vitreoretinal surgeon, says, “Floaters come in different shapes and sizes and even in multiples. People often describe their floaters as looking like black dots, hairs, cobwebs or even insects drifting around their vision. Some
patients say they find themselves trying to swat a mosquito, only to realise the image is shifting with their eye movements.”
They move as your eyes move and seem to dart away when you try to look at them directly. Floaters are quite common, and most people have them. However, they learn to ignore them until they become noticeably larger in number and/or more prominent. Floaters can become obvious when
looking at something bright, such as a blank wall or a blue sky.
What causes floaters?
Floaters occur when the vitreous, a jelly-like fluid that fills about 80 per cent of the eye and helps it maintain a round shape, slowly goes from a smooth, thick texture to being more fluid. This usually happens with age. As the vitreous shrinks, it becomes somewhat stringy, and the strands can cast
tiny shadows on the retina. These are known as floaters.
In most cases, floaters are part of the natural ageing process and simply an annoyance. In fact, most people will experience eye floaters at some time in their life (after 40 years of age). They can be distracting at first, but eventually tend to become less bothersome as they settle. Usually, eye floaters will go away after a few months, either because they have drifted out of view or because you no longer notice them. Although floaters themselves aren’t dangerous, in rare cases they can be a symptom of a sight-
threatening condition. More serious causes of floaters include infection, inflammation (uveitis),
haemorrhaging, retinal tears and injury to the eye.
Who is at risk?
Floaters are more likely to develop as we age and are more common in people who are very near-sighted, have diabetes, or who have had eye surgery or cataract operation.
For people who have floaters that are simply annoying, no treatment is recommended.
On rare occasions, floaters can be so dense and numerous that they significantly affect vision. In these cases, a vitrectomy, a surgical procedure that removes floaters from the vitreous, may be required.
A vitrectomy removes the vitreous gel, along with its floating debris, from the eye. The vitreous is
replaced with a salt solution. Because the vitreous is mostly water, you will not notice any change
between the salt solution and the original vitreous.
This operation carries significant risks to sight because of possible complications, which include
retinal detachment, retinal tears and cataract. Most eye surgeons are reluctant to recommend this surgery unless the floaters seriously interfere with vision.
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