When Are Floaters a Medical Problem?

When Are Floaters a Medical Problem?

Now you see it, now you … kind of see it. That’s the effect you get with floaters, tiny specks or squiggles that dart across your vision, slipping to one side when you try to focus on them directly. 

Most of us have experienced floaters at some point, especially when staring at the sky or another bright background that makes these tiny flecks even more noticeable. And most of us have probably wondered what they are and if they’re anything to be concerned about. 

In most cases, a few floaters aren’t a big deal. But there are times when floaters signify a medical problem that needs prompt medical attention.

A top-ranked ophthalmology practice in Bellmore, Great Neck, and Huntington, New York, Long Island Ophthalmic Concepts evaluates floaters using state-of-the-art technology, screening for underlying conditions that cause a proliferation of the tiny specks. In this post, our team offers an overview of floaters, including what they are, why they occur, and when they could be a sign of a medical problem.

Quick facts about floaters

Floaters might look like tiny organisms floating around in your eye; however, they’re actually clumps of collagen and other materials found in the gel-like part of your eye called the vitreous (sometimes called the vitreous humor or vitreous body). The vitreous is located in the space between the lens at the front part of your eye and the retina located all the way at the back of your eye.

As you age, the vitreous changes its viscosity or thickness, becoming more liquid. Strands of collagen clump together inside the vitreous, casting shadows on the light-sensitive retina. It’s these shadows that create the appearance of floaters. 

Although they might appear unusual, nearly everyone develops at least a few floaters as they age. People who’ve had cataract surgery, those who are very nearsighted, and people with diabetes tend to have more floaters.

Floaters that occur with normal eye aging typically don’t require treatment. But there are times when floaters occur as a symptom of an underlying eye problem that does require medical treatment.

When floaters need to be treated

If you notice you have more floaters than normal, you should definitely schedule an exam as soon as possible. That’s because while aging is a major cause of floaters, they can also be caused by eye injuries, infections, and inflammation. 

If you notice a rapid increase in the number of floaters, you should immediately call the office and let us know. So-called showers of floaters are a sign of retinal detachment, a serious eye problem that can lead to permanent blindness if not quickly treated. These showers are often accompanied by flashes of light, another sign of retinal detachment.

A rapid increase in floaters and floater activity can also signify vitreous detachment, a serious condition that happens when the vitreous separates or peels away from the retina. Retinal tears can also cause an increase in floaters. All of these issues require immediate attention by our team or an immediate trip to the emergency room.

Evaluating your floaters

Our team evaluates floaters during dilated eye exams, and we also assess your vitreous and your retina. Regular eye exams are the best way to look for early signs of problems, so they can be treated as soon as possible.

Don’t let eye problems sneak up on you. If you’re concerned about floaters or if it’s been more than a year since your last eye exam, request an appointment online or over the phone with the team at Long Island Ophthalmic Concepts today.

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