How to Differentiate Between Harmless Floaters and Serious Eye Conditions

Posted on February 28, 2024 • by RCA • in RCA Featured Blog Posts

Originally published by The Retina Eye Center

Did you know?: Eye floaters usually only affect one eye at a time, and it’s uncommon for both to be affected. This happens because one eye’s vitreous may shrink a little faster than the other.

Described as shapes moving slowly through your field of vision, eye floaters are a common visual phenomenon that many people experience, especially as they get older. While annoying, patients with eye floaters often get used to them and eventually ignore them. However, while often harmless, eye floaters may also indicate more dire conditions, like a retinal detachment. Should certain symptoms manifest, quick medical care is vital. An earlier diagnosis will determine if your floaters are harmless, or if treatment is required for an underlying condition.

The Role of Aging in Eye Floaters

Typically, floaters develop due to posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), a common condition in people 50-70 years old. PVD involves the eye’s vitreous — the clear, gel-like substance comprising much of the eye’s total volume — losing its viscosity (thickness) over time. It starts shrinking, pulling away from the retina, causing particles to enter into the vitreous. Floaters appear in our vision because these particles cast shadows against the retina. No matter how often you blink, the floaters return to your field of vision. In most cases, they are completely harmless, beyond being annoying. However, as mentioned earlier, patients generally are able to ignore them after a while.

Harmless or Harmful: How to Tell the Difference

Often, floaters are not a big concern, but certain symptoms may signal more dangerous conditions, particularly, retinal tears and retinal detachments. With a retinal tear, your retina peels away, causing a tear or hole. They may progress into a retinal detachment, involving part or all of the retina moving out of its proper placement against the back wall of the eye. Immediate medical evaluation is required for both conditions or permanent loss of vision may occur. You should contact a retina specialist for emergency medical care if you experience any of the following:

  • A sudden onset of many new floaters
  • Gray curtains or blurriness obstructing vision
  • Repeated flashes in the same eye as the floaters
  • Darkness on one or both sides of your vision

Eye floaters are also more concerning if you have certain chronic conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes. If you have diabetic retinopathy and are experiencing floaters suddenly, it could indicate that there are damaged or abnormal blood vessels in the eye leaking fluid and bleeding. As such, regular monitoring of eye floaters is essential.

Take Action With Eye Floaters

While often harmless annoyances, eye floaters may signal a more serious problem. If you’d like to schedule a comprehensive exam with a retina specialist to diagnose floaters in the Central Savannah River Area, please contact The Retina Eye Center today.