For more than a decade, the dedicated team of specialists at Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, P.C. has provided patients from all across Georgia with an array of eye care services, ranging from routine vision examinations and prescription eyewear to advanced eye disease treatment and refractive eye surgery. In this ongoing blog feature, you will have the opportunity to benefit from the expertise of board certified ophthalmologist Dr. William Segal and licensed consultative optometrist Dr. Marc Lay as they answer some of the eye care questions most frequently asked by patients.
QUESTION: Sometimes, particularly when I am looking at a plain white background or at a clear blue sky, I can see shadowy shapes, like spots or squiggly lines, floating in my field if vision. They move as my eyes move and dart away when I try to look at them directly, but no amount of rubbing seems to make them go away. Is this something that I should worry about? What is going on? What are these things and how can I get rid of them?
ANSWER: These tiny visual abnormalities are called “eye floaters” and they are actually a very common, and usually harmless, by-product of the eyes’ internal anatomy. The eyes are filled with a clear, gel-like substance called the vitreous that helps them to maintain their round shape. As we grow older, that gel can start to dissolve and liquefy in the center, and tiny pieces can break loose to float freely in the liquid, like bits of ice floating in water. These tiny floating bits partially obstruct light as it passes through and cast shadows on the retina. Because they are literally floating free inside the eye they move as the eye moves, and never remain still when you try to focus on them.
Floaters do not generally impair vision and are likely to disappear over time, just like floating ice will dissolve into water. However, in some cases, they may also be an indicator of a more serious eye condition called a retinal detachment. The vitreous breaks down from the inside out, and if too much of the gel in the center liquefies the eye may no longer be able to maintain its shape. Gradually, the outer layers of vitreous gel can collapse inward, pulling away from the retina or dislodging the retina itself from the inner back portion of the eye. This tearing stimulates the light sensitive photoreceptor cells that line the retina, creating impulses that are interpreted by the brain as bursts or streaks of light called eye flashes. If you notice a sudden appearance of a shower of eye floaters followed by bright flashes in your field of vision, you should seek medical attention immediately. When addressed promptly, a detached or torn retina can be corrected with laser eye surgery or a freezing treatment that reattaches the retina to the eye wall.
At Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, we treat all of the conditions that can negatively affect eyesight, from the rarest to the most common, and we strive to provide our patients with the safest, most effective options available. If you would like to learn more about the various services we offer or if you have any other questions or concerns about your vision, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to schedule a comprehensive medical eye exam with Dr. Segal or Dr. Lay today. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear and healthy.