Have you ever found yourself staring up at the blue sky and noticing some specs or spots floating around like seahorses in the ocean? These are nothing to be concerned with. They are something referred to as eye floaters. Eye floaters are tiny specks that can be seen in your field of vision, especially when you look at light-coloured areas such as a blue sky or white wall. The reason you can see floaters better when looking at, for instance, a bright blue sky, is because your pupils contract to a very small size, thus reducing the aperture, which in turn makes floaters more apparent and focused. Their shapes vary greatly, but will often appear as spots, cobwebs, or randomly shaped stringy objects. Though they look like objects in your environment, eye floaters are actually inside your eyes. There are a few different things that can cause this, but in most cases, these eye floaters are caused when tiny clumps form in the clear, jelly-like substance (the vitreous humour) inside the eyeball. The reason the floating specks never seem to stay still is that floaters are suspended in the vitreous humor and they move when your eye moves. So as you try to look at them, they will appear to drift with your eye movement. If you try to look directly at them, the floaters may seem to disappear.
Most floaters are small flecks of a protein called collagen. They’re part of a gel-like substance in the back of your eye called the vitreous. The vitreous humor, or often just “vitreous”, is a clear gel that fills the gap between your retina and lens, helping maintain the round shape of your eye in the process. This gel is made up from about 99% water and 1% of various other elements; the latter of which consists mostly of a network of hyaluronic acid and collagen. Hyaluronic acid ends up retaining water molecules. Over time though, this network breaks down which results in the hyaluronic acid releasing its trapped water molecules. When this happens, it forms a watery core in your vitreous body.
As you age then, pieces of the still gel-like collagen/hyaluronic acid network will break off and float around in this watery center. When light passes through this area, it creates a shadow on your retina. This shadow is actually what you are seeing when you see the eye floaters.
Children and teenagers almost never experience these types of eye floaters as there must first be some deterioration of the gel-like substance in their eye, creating the watery core, for these floaters to appear. However, they do still sometimes experience a certain type of eye floater that often appears more like a crystallized web across their vision. These floaters aren’t found in the vitreous humor like the above floaters. Instead, they are found in the Premacular Bursa area, right on top of the retina. These floaters are microscopic in size and only appear as big as they do because of their proximity to the retina. Unfortunately, their microscopic nature makes them almost impossible to treat in most cases.
In most circumstances, floaters are harmless and nothing to worry about. There are various circumstances in which you should consult your doctor or Ophthalmologist. These are:
- Increase in the number of floaters
- Persistent floaters that do not go away
- Eye pain
- Flashing lights in your vision
- Trouble seeing
- A dark shadow in your peripheral vision