What Are Eye Floaters?

We asked ophthalmologist Dr. Robert Latkany about spots before our eyes.

Q. Sometimes I see black dots in my eyes. My eye doctor says they are 'floaters" and not to worry. But what is a floater, why do I have them and will they go away?

A. If you see someone writhing around in circles trying to swat away a fly that you cannot see, they may not be as crazy as they seem. Some people see shadowy images that resembles a fly in their line of vision, caused by a so-called a vitreous floater.

A vitreous floater is a substance that "floats" in the gel-like vitreous cavity in the middle part of the eye. It is often due to a breakdown of collagen or cellular debris. Vitreous floaters can appear as black dots or even as a cobweb-like appearance. Sometimes they are congenital (present from birth). But most often, people who are nearsighted or myopic, or those who have had eye trauma or ocular surgery are more likely to get them. Although some kids get floaters, the majority of cases are in adults.

When the floater is isolated to one eye and not associated with a flashing light, a persistent dark shadow, or loss of vision, they usually do not require surgical intervention. However, sometimes, especially when associated with flashing lights, they can be a sign of serious problem called a retinal tear or detachment that can lead to a permanent loss of vision. If detected early enough, a retinal tear or detachment can be surgically repaired and the vision can be maintained. That is why a trip to your eye doctor for a dilated fundus examination (where you get an eye drop that dilates your pupil allowing your eye doctor to see the middle and back parts of your eye) is important to rule out any retinal problems in people who experience floaters.

If it turns out to be just a floater, you should know that it may be persistent for the rest of your life. But don't worry; sometimes these floaters will sink to the bottom of the eye and out of view. Some people learn to ignore it to the point where it no longer bothers them. So if you ever experience black dots or cobwebs in your vision call your eye doctor and don't bother with the insect repellent. About the author: Dr. Robert Latkany is the author of The Dry Eye Remedy and the CEO of medical website MedPie.com.
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