Floaters are tiny specks or spots that float around aimlessly in your field of vision. They can be quite annoying, but they are usually harmless and do not require any special treatment.
Our eyes have gel-like vitreous. As we get older, the vitreous may start dissolving. Floaters appear when very tiny bits of the vitreous break loose and float within the eye.
You may see floaters when you stare at the bright sky or at a computer monitor. You won’t be able to see the tiny pieces of debris drifting within your eyes. What you see is their shadows cast on your retina. Floaters may be dark or light.
Floaters never seem to stand still and you can’t focus on them. They are constantly floating.
If you see floaters, should you be worried?
If you suddenly see a large number of floaters, you should see your doctor immediately. This is especially important if you also experience other visual disturbances. The sudden onset of these symptoms might mean that the vitreous is pulling away from the retina. The retina itself may be getting detached from the inner back of the eyes. Studies have shown that 1 in 7 people who experience these symptoms may have a retinal tear or detachment. A retinal tear may lead to a detachment in almost 50 percent people.
In the case of a retinal tear / detachment, getting immediate medical attention is crucial to save your eyesight. An eye surgeon will be able to reattach the retina and restore its functions before eyesight is lost permanently.
Posterior vitreous detachments may also cause these symptoms. They are more common and in most cases are not a medical emergency.
How to treat flashes and floaters
Though eye flashes and floaters are annoying, they are usually harmless. Most of them will simply disappear over time and may become less troublesome.
Some people get a surgery to remove the floaters. But this surgery is performed only in rare cases where the floaters impair the vision significantly. Vitrectomy is a procedure that involves the removal of the vitreous and its specks from the eye. In most cases, the vitreous is then replaced with a saline liquid.
When to call the doctor
The sudden emergence of a huge number of floaters may indicate a serious problem especially when they are also accompanied by other visual disturbances or flashes of light.
If you see floaters suddenly, you should see your doctor without delay. They probably mean nothing, but you never know.