Why Am I Seeing Floaters?

11 June 2021

We are getting into floater season! I’ll explain firstly what I mean by floaters.  

Have you ever seen little black or grey spots, squiggles or lines in your vision? Yes? Then you have seen your floaters. 

We all have them and they by themselves are harmless. Many people won’t notice them at all and others will see them quite often. We make new ones as time goes by (unfortunately it’s another aging process in the eye) and it’s the new ones we are more likely to see and also more likely to worry us. That’s when people get worried that there is a black spot/fly/line in their vision that they have never seen before. Quite often you’ll try to shoo the fly away that has flown into the edge of your vision only to find it IS your vision and won’t go! 

What you are seeing is a floater – it's a lump or strand of the jelly fluid (called the Vitreous) inside the eye that has shrunk and formed an opaque lump. The jelly fluid inside the eye obviously needs to be transparent, but as we age small parts of it can shrink and form these lumps or strands that will be suspended in the jelly. They will slowly move in your vision – almost slowly flowing or following your gaze. So if you look suddenly to the left, the floater will slowly drift to the left as it “catches up” with the eye movement. 

So what are you actually seeing? Well, you see the shadow that the lump casts onto the back of your eye. That is why the black spot can look quite big sometimes, the shadow of it on the back of your eye is much bigger than the floater itself. Think of it like someone standing up at the cinema and a massive shadow of them being cast onto the screen, now we know they aren’t a giant but their shadow looks huge compared to their size. In reality these lumps can be tiny, microscopic even, but the shadow effect of them makes them look big in our vision.  

And why floater season? Because it’s the shadow that we see, we only see them in the light, when it’s bright or there is a white or light background to see them against. So we start to get more people noticing floaters at this time of year as it’s sunny and lighter for longer in the evenings. You should never see a floater in the dark. You tend to see them against white walls, books or screens and if you are tired or aren’t really focused on something specific. 

A word of warning – although normal floaters are essentially harmless and are more of a nuisance than anything else Opticians will take them very seriously. A sudden increase in floaters, especially associated with flashes of light could be a sign of a retinal tear and must be investigated ASAP. The jelly fluid (Vitreous) in the eye and is attached to the back of the eye. If you get a patch of the jelly shrinking very close to the back of the eye it can pull on the retina as it shrinks and pulls the attachment away from the retina. The pulling on the retina causes flashes. This is known as a Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD) and can be the cause of a tear. Also if you have a black spot or smudge in your vision that doesn’t move or slowly drift or float across your vision then that needs investigating too as it may not be a floater. So if you have symptoms like these – flashes and new floaters then you must seek help and advice form an Optometrist as soon as you can. If in any doubt speak to your Optician. 

So will the floaters disappear? The short answer is unfortunately no, but you will get used to new ones and stop seeing them so much, some may even break up into smaller pieces. It can take a little time for your brain to get used to them but you’ll soon stop noticing them so much. And no, there isn’t a laser or a cosmetic operation that will clear them out, but watch this space, you never know what the future holds! 

Remember – any doubts speak to your Optician. 

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