Floaters are slowly moving shapes that appear in an individual’s vision. They are not optical illusions, nor are they present outside of the person’s body. Rather, they are entoptic phenomena – minor malfunctions in the eye mechanism, analogous to ringing the ears.
Floaters vary in size, shape and transparency. They are more noticeable when contrasted against a bright, blank external background. Though actually so small that attending optometrist cannot see them they appear large to the afflicted individual because of their close proximity to the retina.
Floaters are actually shadows case by imperfection in the vitreous humour, the thick gel like fluid inside the eye. This gel material is usually transparent. But if any part of the material ceases to be transparent it casts a vague, translucent shadow on the retina, which is seen as a floater.
Floaters may cause some initial confusion and frustration as patients try to unsuccessfully direct their gaze towards them. But they are harmless unless they exist in great numbers. They will appear to slowly drift though the field of vision as they move through the fluid of the eye. As they will follow any of the eye motions it is very difficult to look at them directly. Over time the mind often learns to tune them out of the individual’s vision.
Floaters are more common in older individuals, though they occasionally appear in young children. The protein fibres in older eyes tend to clump together over time, producing the denser spot in the eye fluid that lies behind floaters; though floaters can be caused by other non-transparent parts of the eye fluid.
A sudden large increase in the number of floaters is a bad sign, especially if it occurs with flashes of light or other vision issues. This should be professionally examined and treated by a doctor or optometrist. Otherwise the occurrence of floaters is a minor issue.
Talk to your Sydney Optometrist if you have any queries.