Eye floaters are small dots, lines or shapes that some people see floating around, especially in bright light conditions (such as when looking at the sky). It is estimated that around half of the world’s adult population will experience eye floaters at some point in their lives. Eye floaters are more prevalent among middle aged and older adults, because with time the gel in the eye cavity tends to shrink and lose its fluidity. However, they can be present since birth, especially if the birth was complicated.
Eye floaters tend to be semi-transparent or white-grey in color, and they often appear to move when you move your eyes. They tend to move in the direction where you look (if you look right, they will move right), before reorienting themselves around the center of vision. They vary widely in shape and number; indeed they are often described to be as diverse as fingerprints. Some people will only see a single floater, while others will see hundreds. Obviously, the more the number of floaters and the larger they are, the more annoying and distracting they can be. Eye floaters can be particularly problematic for people with outdoor occupations, such as drivers and policemen/women.
What the floaters actually are is an aggregation of proteins, and sometimes, minuscule drops of blood. Although most eye floaters are benign, they can be pathological and indicative of a more serious underlying condition (such as retinal detachment). It is therefore essential that you see a doctor when you develop eye floaters. You should consult with a doctor again if your eye floaters suddenly change in number or intensity.
Sometimes, a person with eye floaters will also experience flashes of bright light, particularly when changing from well-lit to dark areas. These flashes are sometimes described to be multicolored and to be seen spreading in the field of vision. The phenomenon of flashes can indicate retinal tear or detachment and should not be taken lightly.
Unfortunately, the only medical solution for eye floaters is surgery, of which there are two types: laser and vitrectomy. Laser surgery breaks up the eye floaters using laser, however, it is controversial as it is risky and not always effective. On the other hand, vitrectomy involves the removal of the liquid in the eye (the vitreous humor) along with the debris, and replacing it with an artificial solution. Of course, this too is not without risks and it can result in retinal detachment, cataracts or infection.