Dr. Filar often gets asked about small specs that appear to float through someone’s field of vision. Even very young people may notice on occasion a spot that appears when they look at a light, plain surface. The good news is that there is usually no reason to be alarmed!
Eye floaters are simply how we see differences in the gel or liquid in the back of our eyes. Typically these spots appear as specks, circles, or stringy webs that drift through our field of vision. The reason that we see them is that the human brain works with the eyes to interpret light that enters through the front of the eye. In between the light entering the front of the eye and the structures inside the eye that create visual images there is a gel-like substance called vitreous or vitreous humor.
Vitreous is generally a thicker gel in young people and begins to change as we age. Through our youth, the gel generally remains consistent. With age, vitreous dissolves and starts to turn into a thinner liquid. Because some of the gel does not thin and remains in a gel state, you may be able to see small discrepancies in the consistency of the material. These are floaters.
Occasional floaters are generally not anything to worry about, but other types of visual anomalies have different causes and may be something more serious. If you suddenly see lots of floaters, or if you are seeing flashes of light, contact your eye doctor right away. The sudden appearance of many floaters could mean that the vitreous is beginning to separate from your retina. This is a type of detachment and can lead to damage to the delicate retina which may cause permanent loss of vision.
Always keep in mind that any sudden changes to your vision could be serious and should be addressed with a medical professional right away.