It’s happened to many of as at one time or another and for one reason or another: we are going about our day, working or running errands or playing with the kids, when suddenly, out of the corner of our eye, we see strangle little “floaters” that look like dark specs or transparent shapes floating in the periphery of our vision. It can be distracting and unsettling, and when we start worrying it’s a sign of a major problem, it can become anxiety inducing too. But these floaters aren’t always cause for alarm or panic.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most eye floaters are caused by age-related changes to our eyes. Specifically, the jelly-like substance inside our eyes, called vitreous, becomes more liquid as we get older. When this happens, microscopic fibers within the vitreous can clump up and cast small shadows on our retina. What we’re seeing when we’re seeing floaters are in fact these shadows. Floaters, therefore, can be an annoying but normal part of our eyes’ aging process. However, there are absolutely some instances where floaters mean you should seek a doctor’s opinion immediately.
When to see a doctor about eye floaters
The Mayo Clinic says that while floaters are common and normal as we age, if you notice a sudden or significant increase in floaters, or if you see flashes of light or lose your peripheral vision, you should contact an eye doctor right away. This is because large black spots, streaks or flashes of light, or a sudden and severe increase in floaters can be a sign of a potentially blinding condition known as retinal tearing or retinal detachment. This can happen when, as the vitreous shrinks, it pulls on the retina at the back of the eye and causes the retina to either tear or come completely away from the vitreous humour (via visioneyeinstitute.com). This is very serious and could result in blindness if not treated urgently, so if you notice any of these symptoms, call your eye doctor right away.
If, however, you are simply experiencing those annoying occasional floaters, you are in good company; the majority of us will experience them at some point, especially after the age of 40. So while mentioning them at your regular eye exam is probably a good idea, you likely don’t need to rush in for help unless you experience the above symptoms of retinal detachment.
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