Expertise

Floaters

Clearing your vision

Floaters are shapes that people can see drifting across their vision. Shortsighted people tend to suffer from them more, and they increase as we get older.

Floaters image

Floaters are collagen strands in the jelly or vitreous in your eye which cast a shadow on your retina so that you see them in your vision. These are common and increase as we age. In time, the jelly or vitreous in your eye will gradually break down and separate in a process called a Posterior Vitreous Detachment or PVD. When a PVD occurs, you may become aware of a sudden increase in floaters and flashing lights. Dependent on the shape of floaters, you may notice a cobweb, spider, lace curtain or flies floating in your field of vision. The flashing lights happen because the vitreous pulls the retina as it detaches from it. The retina can only send information about light to the brain and so you ‘see’ the tugging as light. In the majority of people, PVDs do not require any treatment. The floaters settle and become less troublesome with time and the vitreous pulls away from the retina completely without causing problems.

In a small number of people, the vitreous can tug too hard on the retina and cause a retinal tear. This is dangerous as it can lead to a retinal detachment and loss of sight. If you notice thousands of small floaters or bright flashing lights (like lightning), then this may have happened and you should have a dilated eye examination without delay.

In people with very severe floaters or in those who cannot adapt to them, the floaters can cause visual disturbances that affect their quality of vision. The persistent floaters can interfere with social, work and driving life. It is possible to carry out an operation to the eye to remove the vitreous gel (vitrectomy), which will also remove the floaters.

What to expect after a vitrectomy

Mr. Mitry outlines some of the infrequent risks of vitrectomy surgery

Additional information

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