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Floaters: An explanation of those annoying shadows in your vision

Ever wondered what those small dark shadows that drift in front of your vision are? Sometimes they pop up when you are trying to read a book, other times they appear on light coloured backgrounds such as walls, ceilings and outdoors in the sky. What you are actually seeing is a shadow being cast on your retina from threads and clumps of collagen that are normally invisible in the back of your eye. These fragments of collagen are known as ‘floaters’,  which best describes their movement in the eye as they drift or float past in our vision.

Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD)

As we age, the vitreous gel in the back of our eye degenerates and liquifies causing the collagen fibres to collapse and bind together, often forming shapes such as dots, cobwebs and squiggly lines. The breakdown of the collagen in the back of the eye often culminates in a normal ageing process known as a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), in which the vitreous gel peels away from the retina.

Acute Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD)

If you suddenly see new floaters, these may often be accompanied with flashing lights due to the vitreous gel pulling on the retina as it separates. If you see repeated flashing lights in your vision it is important to have your eyes checked immediately by an eye professional because sometime the separating vitreous gel may have torn the retina as it separates. If left untreated this could lead to a retinal detachment and permanent blindness. 

Assessing floaters

Typically your eyes will be assessed using drops that dilate your pupil, so that your eyes can be examined thoroughly to check for any breaks or tears of the retina. Any tear of the retina requires urgent repair by an eye surgeon so that the retina can be stabilised before detachment. If a tear in the retina is detected, we will provide an urgent referral to an eye surgeon to save your sight.

Treatment of floaters

A posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) occurs in most people during their lifetime, and often any flashes that are seen settle down quickly and new floaters become visible. After a while, your brain may ignore these shadows in your vision (floaters), however in some cases these floaters can become visually debilitating.

Treatment of floaters

Typically most floaters do not require any treatment however if floaters hinder your ability to read or drive, then it may be possible to have these floaters reduced in size by laser treatment. At Dean Samarkovski Optometrist, we can refer you to an experienced Ophthalmologist to assess whether your floaters can be treated.