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What Causes Floaters?

Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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What causes floaters or visual disturbances, which look like floating lines or dots on the vision, can vary per person experiencing them. By far the most common cause of this entropic (perceived from within the eye) phenomenon is normal aging, which changes the eye’s vitreous fluid, creating floaters. Other medical examples of what causes floaters include injury to the eye that inserts anything into the vitreous fluid, improper resolution of the hyaloid artery during fetal development, and red or white blood cell accumulation in the eye.

Most people don’t experience any form of floaters until at least middle age, unless they’ve have an eye injury or surgery. As the eye ages, the vitreous fluid in the eye changes slightly in composition. It transforms from a more jelly type consistency to a more liquid consistency. In this process, bits of jelly may still break off from typically the back portion of the eye and they can become perceivable to the eye as an entropic phenomenon. These are floaters of the most common form, and when they are unaccompanied by other symptoms they are typically benign, though people experiencing them may want to consult an eye specialist if floaters are experienced often or for long periods of time.

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People may also be interested in what causes floaters that are not so indicative of benign conditions. There are actually many answers to this question. A sudden eye infection, which may flood the eye with white blood cells, may cause detachment of jelly like parts of the vitreous fluid into the more liquid parts of the eye. When flashes of light accompany floaters, they may be indicative of things like a migraine, but can also be an extremely serious sign that perhaps the jelly portion has pulled at and torn or detached part of the retina.

Of course, not all additional causes of floaters are gravely serious; sometimes people have residual eye disturbances from the improper resolution the hyaloid artery. This artery usually does not extend into the eye’s vitreous fluid after birth, but may by congenital defect persist, and cause visual disturbances. People may also mistake matter in the tear portion of the eye for floaters, and such matter could be dirt, conjunctiva or other, which may be removed. Floaters can’t be removed by individuals perceiving them, in contrast, because they are inside the eye.

An eye examination can usually easily detect floaters and most often can determine their cause, such as normal aging, infection or injury to the eye. It must be stressed that what causes floaters is anything from benign changes to serious problems that may permanently impair sight. Any concern about this phenomenon, particularly if accompanied by perception of flashes, should be brought directly to a skilled eye doctor or an emergency room physician.

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