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What are Vitreous Floaters?

Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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Vitreous floaters are chunks of material in the vitreous, the clear material which fills the back of the eye. For the eye's owner, they manifest in the form of drifting specks, threads, cobwebs, or blotches which obscure the vision because they cause shadows on the retina. Many people have floaters, as they are known, but they can sometimes be a cause for concern. As a general rule, any sudden change in vision can be a sign that an underlying disease process may be occurring, and it is a good idea to make an appointment to see an eye doctor if floaters increase in number suddenly or if other visual changes such as flashes or fogging occur.

There are a number of causes for vitreous floaters. Some people are born with them, while other people develop them over time. Floaters can include dead cell debris, clumps of collagen which form as the eye ages, and sometimes blood as well. Many people find that they tend to drift across the eye, sinking downwards until the eye is moved and they bounce back up again. Over time, people with vitreous floaters can grow quite accustomed to them, and may not even notice them.

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Sometimes vitreous floaters occur as the result of a retinal tear, an emerging medical problem which requires treatment. If a floater looks new or unusual, it can be a good idea to consult an eye doctor for an exam. Floaters in the form of flecks of blood or a foggy curtain over the vision are signs of retinal detachment, an ocular emergency which requires immediate treatment. People with retinal detachment can also experience flashes in their vision.

It is also possible for debris in someone's tears to look like a vitreous floater. If a floater is new or it seems to be related to blinking, it can be a good idea to remove all eye makeup and to gently flush the eye with running water and wash the face. This may resolve the floater and prove that it is not a cause for concern.

There are some treatments available for vitreous floaters if they become annoying. One option is vitrectomy, in which a portion of the vitreous is removed, hopefully pulling floaters along with it. Another choice available is surgery to zap the floaters so that they will not be as visible. Both of these options can be discussed with an ophthalmologist who can provide specific advice, recommendations, and information on the basis of a patient's case.

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