The first time you see spots in your field of vision you might get worried. It’s an odd experience, to have these shadow like things floating across your field of vision. Well, you can stop worrying. These floaters are merely annoying and pose no serious medical threat to your eye health.
Eye floaters come in a small variety of shapes. Some people see spots or flecks, others see ‘cobwebs’, or thread-like strands or squiggly lines. They are usually black or gray or ‘shadow like’ in nature. All are normal and not medically serious in any way.
We tend to see floaters as we age. Floaters are actually tiny pieces of the eye’s vitreous that have broken loose. It sounds terrible, but it’s quite common. The vitreous is gel-like when we are young, and as we get older the vitreous begins to shrink and get stringy (which also sounds terrifying, but is simply a normal part of aging.) We can’t actually see the tiny bits of vitreous – they float within the inner back portion of the eye and cast a shadow on the retina. The shadows are what you see. They are especially apparent when you are looking at a bright sky or a white computer screen. You get the impression that the spots are drifting because the floaters move when your eye moves.
When Seeing Spots is a Medical Emergency
If you experience these symptoms it can be an indication that the vitreous is pulling away from your retina. It can also indicate that the retina itself is becoming dislodged from the inner back of the eye. It doesn’t always mean that this is what is happening, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association one in seven people with these symptoms will have a retinal tear or detachment.
If you see a shower of floaters and/or flashes of light you need immediate medical attention because an eye surgeon needs to reattach the retina as soon as possible before you lose your vision permanently.
While a shower of floaters and/or flashes of light can be a retinal tear it is most likely that you have posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). PVD is not an emergency, although vitreous detachments can damage the retina by tugging on it, so you still need to seek medical attention. Your doctor will determine if you have PVD or a retinal tear and what action is necessary.
Those Most Likely to Experience PVD
More than half of all people will have experienced a vitreous detachment by the time they are 80 years old. If you have PVD that is accompanied by light flashes there is a 15% chance of developing a retinal tear.
Vitreous detachments are also more common in people that are nearsighted, and they may experience them at a younger age than other people. If you are nearsighted your eye’s elongated shape increases the likelihood of a PVD.
Those with diabetes, inflammation of the eye’s interior, or cytomegalovirus (CMV) are also more likely to experience PVD.
PVDs are also common following a cataract surgery and the accompanying follow-up procedure known as a YAG laser capsulotomy. These eye procedures increase trauma within the eye which can lead to vitreous detachments. It is important to speak with your optometrist before surgery to assess your risk.
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For more information on your eye health or to schedule a comprehensive eye exam, call Redding’s family-focused optometrist, Kristi Davis, O.D. At 530.222.7271