Eye Floaters: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments
As people age, the presence of eye floaters becomes much more pronounced, which is why it is important to understand the origin, symptoms, treatments and potential risks of these strange shadows in our vision.
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What are Eye Floaters?
Eye floaters are the dark specks, stringy or shadowy lines that we occasionally see across our vision. It can be disconcerting when these specks appear, similar to how some people “see stars” after standing up too quickly or being banged on the head. These eye floaters tend to be black or gray in appearance and can be nearly impossible to focus on. They seem to disappear or fly to one side when you attempt to look directly at them.
The reason for this difficulty, of course, is that these eye floaters are intrinsically linked to the movement of your eye. They are actually composed of clumps of microscopic fibers that gradually form in our eyes over time, due to certain changes in the fluid within our eyes. The vitreous humor is the gel-like substance that is found in the back 2/3 of our eyes. It is through this fluid that the light passes on to be registered on our rods and cones.
While we are young, this vitreous humor has a uniform consistency. As we age, it turns into more of a liquid, and the minuscule fibers and strands from that humor begin to clump together. In most cases, these clumps remain invisible and do not impact the movement of light; however, if they grow large or long enough, they can be seen as a shadow on our vision. These can also be small liquid pockets in this gel-like solution that form over time, which are seen as the “speck form” of eye floaters.
While these eye floaters are generally harmless, they can partially impair your vision and may be indicative of a more serious underlying medical condition. If these eye floaters appear very quickly or seem to constantly be present, it is important to see an eye specialist immediately.
Causes of Eye Floaters
There are various causes of eye floaters apart from the natural aging process, such as a torn retina, trauma to the eye, or inflammation.
Aging Process: As we age, many parts of our body begin to break down, and the same thing is true for our eyes too. Over the years, the gel-like substance in our eyes begins to turn into liquid, which fills up less space and pulls away slightly from the surface of the eye. This causes the strings and specks in our vision; they are shadows of the strands, pockets, and bits of debris from this natural breakdown of the aging process.
Trauma: When you rub your eyes very quickly, it can cause “stars” to be seen for a few seconds as the visual receptors deal with the intense pressure of your fingers. Similarly, any trauma to the eye can cause the increased breakdown of the vitreous humor, and also cause some of the more serious symptoms of eye floaters, such as flashing lights or poor peripheral vision.
Torn Retina: Tearing your retina can be caused by a rapid or forceful pullback of the vitreous humor. This can then exacerbate the buildup of the fluid behind the eye and a further sagging of the humor. This creates a cycle that only creates more eye floaters, so any torn retina should be addressed and fixed by a doctor as soon as possible.
Inflammation: General inflammation of the eye from infections, pollutants, irritants or trauma can speed up the process of vitreous humor breakdown, leading to more eye floaters. Use eyedrops to flush out the eyes and practice proper hygiene habits when washing your face or touching your eyes for any reason.
Symptoms of Eye Floaters
As mentioned earlier, the primary symptoms of eye floaters are minor impairments, the appearance of specks, flecks, strands or shadows in your vision. These spots aren’t stationary and tend to wobble or “swim” through your vision. The dots are most obvious when you are looking at a uniform background or a light colored object. They may be visible for a few seconds or a few minutes, but they will typically settle back into the rim of the eye and disappear.
When you try to look at them or shift your eyes to focus more accurately, they often fly out of sight, because they are rapidly taken out of the line of sight (from the back of your eye) when your eyes move. If these specks are accompanied by any other symptoms, such as flashes of light, temporary vision loss, or impairment of your peripheral vision, you should immediately be checked out by an ophthalmologist.
Treatments for Eye Floaters
Due to their harmless nature, and their relatively minor impact on your life, there are very few times when a doctor will recommend a treatment. Provided they don’t get significantly worse in a short period of time, people simply get used to the idea of occasionally seeing some shadows. That being said, if they do begin to impair your vision to a dangerous level, there are two formal treatment options to clear up the issue.
In serious cases, where the eye floaters begin to block your ability to see, laser therapy can be used to break up the larger clumps of these degraded fibers, preventing them from casting shadows on the retina. Unfortunately, this procedure does come with some risks of vision damage and is rarely recommended except for serious cases of eye floaters.
Another formal option for floaters is the complete removal of the vitreous humor, and its replacement with a synthetic solution to help the inner eye maintain its shape. This doesn’t completely eliminate the chances of eye floaters, but it can be very helpful for those whose vision has been impaired.
Home Remedies for Eye Floaters
For those who prefer to take the more natural route to their health, there are some home remedies for eye floaters, including the use of sunglasses, ginkgo biloba, certain eye exercises, a diet rich in antioxidants, more water, getting more sleep and cutting back on alcohol and cigarettes.
Excessive UV radiation can cause stress on the eyes, resulting in a faster breakdown of the humor and an earlier onset of eye floaters. When exposed to the sun for a long period of time, it is best to wear sunglasses and give your eyes a break.
Activities like focusing exercises and general stress-relief strategies for your eyes can slow the progression of eye floaters. Rolling your eyes counter-clockwise 10 times, and then doing this in reverse, can relieve tension and stress in the eyes. Also, if you work on a screen, take regular breaks to relieve eye strain.
Research has linked alcohol consumption with a generally poor vision health, and a faster rate of macular degenerations. For this very reason, limiting your drinking to moderate levels is highly recommended.
Smoking is basically pouring toxins into the body, and some people believe that excess toxins will speed the degradation of the vitreous humor. To better your chances and lower your eye floaters, give up the habit!
Dehydration is often pointed to as a major reason for the rapid onset of eye floaters. Proper water intake lowers overall toxin levels, which have been linked to the occurrence of eye floaters.
If you are suffering from numerous of vision-impairing eye floaters, try increasing your antioxidant intake. These toxin-clearing compounds found in many foods will help stimulate proper function and regrowth of cells. They will also help in slowing the breakdown of the vitreous humor and protect you from other vision issues, such as macular degeneration and cataracts.