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January 02, 2020
At some time in your life, you will experience small moving spots in your field of vision. These are called floaters, and they can be very annoying. Floaters are usually not dangerous and do not interfere with vision. They are usually only noticeable in bright light, and most people learn to live with them. Sometimes, however, floaters are an indication of something more serious occurring with the eyes. If you notice an increase in the number of floaters in your eye, you should consult your physician, especially if they are accompanied by loss of vision or flashes of light. These symptoms are indicating a serious condition, and without immediate treatment, will result in permanent vision loss.
Most of the time, floaters are caused by flecks of collagen in the eye. As you age, the gel-like substance in the back part of the eye, called the vitreous, begins to shrink along with collagen fibers. These fibers become shred-like and collect in the vitreous. This causes a change in how the retina reacts to light. Usually, floaters affect older people from 50 to 75 years of age. Sometimes, they can also be caused by nearsightedness or cataract surgery. Floaters can also be caused by eye disease, diabetic retinopathy, crystal deposits in the vitreous humor, eye tumors, and eye injuries.
A more serious disorder that can cause floaters is retinal detachment. This is when the retina peels away from the underlying support tissue. The retina is the thin layer of tissue on the back wall of the eye. The retina translates the light that is focused there into an image that becomes neural impulses, which are then sent to the brain through the optic nerve. This is how the brain understands what the eye sees. When the retina detaches from the tissue, vitreous fluid seeps into and under the retina creating a bubble that peels the retina away from the supporting tissue like wallpaper.
There are three types of retinal detachments: rhegmatogenous retinal detachment, secondary retinal detachment, and tractional retinal detachment.
Rhegmatogenous retinal detachment – This is caused by a break in the retina that allows fluid to seep from the vitreous space into the subretinal space.
Secondary retinal detachment – This is caused by injury, inflammation, or vascular abnormalities due to a tear, hole, or break.
Tractional retinal detachment – This is caused by a pull of the sensory retina from the retinal pigment epithelium.
Bleeding from the eye is also known as subconjunctival hemorrhage. This can happen spontaneously or it can be caused by trauma to the eye. Other causes may be sneezing, coughing, straining, vomiting, eye rubbing, high blood pressure, bleeding disorders, and other conditions caused by abnormal clotting. Bleeding in the eye is rare and often resolves itself. If the bleeding lasts longer than two weeks, occurs in both eyes at the same time, or coincides with other symptoms of bleeding, then this is an indication that something serious has occurred.
While floaters are a normal occurrence in older adults, they can also be an indication of more serious underlying conditions. If the floaters come on suddenly and are accompanied by bursts of light, this is a sign that you need to see your doctor. Allowing more serious conditions to continue for more than 48 to 72 hours can cause permanent loss of vision and irreparable damage to the eye. If you experience eye floaters, and you are younger than 50, it is recommended that you make an appointment to see your doctor to rule out any of the above causes.
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