Dec 01 2011
Patients commonly complain to their eye doctor about seeing things floating in their eyes. They describe them, for example, as cobwebs, spider legs, trash, insects, and “look like cells under a microscope.”
Eye floaters are translucent microscopic debris that are trapped in the clear fluid inside the eye (vitreous humor). The term “floaters” is most commonly used by patients and doctors alike. The official Latin name of a floater is “muscae volitantes” which loosely translated means “fluttering flies”. They are common in all ages and rarely cause harm. There is another type of floater and an event that leads to that type of floater that must be given great attention. This subject is covered in greater detail in another article but warrants a brief description and warning.
More common to a person fifty years old or older, the vitreous humor (the jellylike liquid filling the cavity of the eye starts to loosen and and begins to liquify. There is often a sudden event of awareness of a large floater accompanied by flashes of light. That is because the vitreous has partially collapsed. The collapsed vitreous forms the floater and with movement of the eye, the strands of vitreous that are still attached to the eye stimulate the nerves resulting in the sensation of a flash of light. This type of floater or floaters that are changing, increasing, or just do not seem right need immediate attention as they may be the signs of a retinal tear or detachment that is about to happen. The purpose of this post, however, is to illustrate two types of floaters that generally pose no immediate threat or harm.
This video is taken from a microscope and demonstrates what a “typical” floater might look like. The viewer can see the fluid moving with slight eye movements.
The next video demonstrates a harmless type of floater that is not so common, called “Asteroid Hyalosis.” It is a condition of the eye forms floaters in the fluid inside the eye (vitreous) that consist of calcium, phosphate, and phospholipids.
Though “harmless”, the floaters be extremely annoying to the person who has them. Treatment is usually not necessary but in some cases, a vitrectomy may be needed. A vitrectomy is a surgical procedure that removes the clear liquid from the eye. It is not a casual procedure and therefore is used only when necessary.