Floaters are vision changes in the form of small spots, specks, strands or other shapes that appear in the field of view and seem to float in front of the eye. They may give the impression of objects in distance, but in fact they are shadows of cells and filaments suspended in the vitreous humor, or the jelly-like substance that fills the eyeball.
Floaters are usually a normal, relatively common occurrence. However, if their number is increasing, and they are accompanied by flashes – or rays of light pulses similar to the “stars” seen when hit in the head – it may be a sign of an impending retinal detachment.
One of the things that may cause these symptoms is the fact that the vitreous humor may shrink to form small lumps in the eye. These clumps cast a shadow on the retina, and thus the resulting figures and shapes are called floaters.
Sometimes the shrinking vitreous is still partly attached to the retina and leads it away. The displacement of the retinal nerve cells can be a source of visible flashes in the eye.
In most cases, floaters are not a sign of any harmful changes, and looking up or down can get them out of sight.
However, if flashes accompany them, it may indicate approaching retinal detachment, a severe disorder that can lead to serious visual impairment. In most cases no serious problems are found, but a complete eye examination is important. If there is damage to the retina, it needs to be diagnosed and treated immediately to prevent vision loss.