One of the most common visual distortions we all experience is called a ‘floater.’ The vitreous is a transparent, jelly-like substance located behind the lens and in front of the retina. As part of the aging process, the vitreous may occasionally form into small clumps or strands. These floaters cast shadows on the retina and appear to you as moving spots.
Floaters generally are not a cause for concern. However, in certain situations floaters can be an indication of a more serious eye disease. A sudden onset of floaters, especially when accompanied by flashes of light, is characteristic of a vitreous separation. While most vitreous separations resolve on their own, occasionally a retinal tear is created that can lead to a retinal detachment. By performing a laser procedure, we are often able to prevent a retinal tear from progressing to a retinal detachment.
Floaters can also be associated with inflammation of the eye, intraocular hemorrhaging related to diabetes, or infection of the eye after surgery or injury. If you notice a sudden change in the number or severity of floaters, a dilated eye exam is indicated.
The animation below illustrates floaters and a retinal detachment.