Quick! Put your hands on your head. Are your glasses there? Grab your neck — are they dangling there? Now, hold your electric bill four feet from your face and try to read it....
Welcome to the midlife version of Simon Says, a nearly universal condition known as presbyopia, which translates roughly to "elderly eye" (as if crow's feet weren't enough). It usually starts in your early 40s, as the lens of the eye stiffens, losing its ability to focus and making it difficult to see objects...
Occasionally a particularly large eye floater may cast a subtle shadow over your vision. But this tends to occur only in certain types of light.
Most of the time people learn to live with eye floaters and ignore them. And they often improve over months to years. Only rarely do benign eye floaters become bothersome enough to consider treatment.
But sometimes eye floaters are a sign of a more serious condition. You should seek immediate medical attention if you notice a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters.
Immediate medical attention is especially important if the floaters are accompanied by flashes of light or a loss of side vision. If you have these symptoms, see an eye doctor right away. Without immediate treatment, you can have permanent vision loss. These symptoms may be caused by:
Bleeding within the eye
Symptoms of Eye Floaters
Eye floaters move as the eyes move. They generally appear to dart away when you try to focus on them.
Eye floaters can appear in many different shapes, such as:
Black or gray dots
Threadlike strands, which can be knobby and semi-transparent
Once you develop eye floaters they usually do not go away, though they tend to improve over time.
Causes of Eye Floaters
Most eye floaters are caused by small flecks of a protein called collagen.
The back compartment of the eye is filled with a gel-like substance called vitreous humor.
As you age, the vitreous and its millions of fine collagen fibers shrink and become shred-like. Shreds can accumulate in the vitreous. This can cause a change in the amount of light that hits the retina -- the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. This change causes the symptoms of eye floaters.
These changes can happen at any age. They most often occur between ages 50 and 75, especially in people who are very nearsighted or have had cataract surgery.
Rarely, eye floaters can result from other eye surgery or:
Crystal-like deposits that form in the vitreous
Eye tumors such as lymphoma (rarely)
Serious eye disorders associated with eye floaters include:
Vitreous hemorrhage (bleeding)
Vitreous and retinal inflammation caused by viral infections, fungal infections, or auto-immune inflammation
In addition, a unique form of eye floaters is associated with the visual aura of migraine headaches.
When to Seek Medical Attention for Eye Floaters
If you only have a few eye floaters that don't change over time, it usually does not indicate a serious eye problem.
It's important to see a doctor if:
Eye floaters seem to worsen over time, especially if the changes are sudden in onset.
You experience flashes of light or any vision loss accompanied by eye floaters.
You develop eye floaters after eye surgery or eye trauma.