Demystifying Eye Floaters: Dispelling 3 Common Myths and Misconceptions
You’re minding your own business, only for a weird blobby “shape” to glide through your field of vision. It’s not your imagination, but rather an eye floater. While typically harmless, they may signal more serious conditions, making it necessary to quickly alert your ophthalmologist. Once identified, you can start treatment, if needed, and preserve your vision. That being said, it’s a good idea to separate floater fact from fiction.
Identifying an Eye Floater
These ever-changing, moving objects may appear as spots, squiggly lines, or really anything, usually in a single eye. They move in the direction you look, and despite blinking, they’re permanent, although you’ll probably learn to ignore them.
Myth #1: Eye Floaters Only Affect Older People
Eye floaters are common, with research suggesting that about 30% of the population observes them occasionally. Older eyes are more at risk, due to posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). With PVD, normal aging gradually shrinks the vitreous, the clear gel filling the majority of the eye. The vitreous pulls on the retina, causing millions of tiny particles to form and cast their shadows on the retina. PVD is more likely to develop in men and women between the ages of 50 and 70 years old, and even more so after the age of 80.
However, other age groups may still develop floaters, although generally from other causes. Among people in their 20s and 30s, a common cause of floaters is myopia (nearsightedness). Being myopic can also increase the likelihood of floater development, especially for younger people. Research shows that the more myopic your eyes, the faster the vitreous ages. Additionally, myopia may increase your risks for retinal tear and detachment risks, serious concerns closely associated with floater development. Floaters are unlikely to develop in children under 16 years of age, though, unless related to eye disease.
Myth #2: Floaters Are Caused by Controllable Factors
PVD and myopia are among the leading causes of floaters, but they’re not the only ones. Regardless of age, you may develop a floater for various reasons, generally beyond your control. They include:
- You’ve previously had cataract surgery
- You previously had an eye issue, such as swelling within your eye
- You have uveitis, a condition in which inflammation develops within the eye
- You had an eye injury or trauma
Should you have blood in your eye, this may result in floater development. Often, this blood may be due to diabetic retinopathy, in which diabetes raises blood sugar (glucose) levels, damaging the retina’s tiny blood vessels.
Myth #3: Floaters Are Always Normal
Most of us will experience a floater now and then, and for the most part, they’re harmless. Should you experience a high number of floaters or a sudden burst, this may indicate the development of serious concerns, like retinal tears or detachment. These conditions can be severe vision emergencies requiring immediate medical treatment.
Additionally, floaters may be mistaken for other conditions, like high blood pressure, stroke, or diabetes. They may also be confused with multiple sclerosis (MS), in which your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the protective sheath (myelin) surrounding nerves in the brain and spinal cord. As such, you must tell your ophthalmologist about floaters during your annual eye exam.
Learn the Truth about Eye Floaters for Better Vision
Eye floaters are a common, often harmless occurrence, but they may signal a more serious health concern. Discuss any floater development with your ophthalmologist to better understand any concerns and determine what steps should be taken. If you have any questions, or you’d like to schedule an exam for floaters, please contact us today.