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Sudden appearance is a possible warning sign for retinal disorders

What are floaters?

Floaters – also called muscae volitantes (from the Latin, meaning ‘flying flies’) – are small deposits that many people see moving in their visual field, especially when looking at a plain background, such as a wall or the sky.

They are small particles of gelatinous material that form in the vitreous humour, the clear liquid that fills the inside of the eye.

Although they appear to be in front of the eye, they actually float in the vitreous humour, and what can be seen are the shadows of the floaters projected onto the retina. They are generally of minor importance, associated with the aging process.

On occasions, the vitreous gel can separate from the retina, causing tears and even bleeding in the eye. This can cause the appearance of new floaters.

If the tear is not treated, it can lead to retinal detachment, a condition that requires urgent surgical treatment.

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What causes them?

When people reach middle age, the gelatinous material in the vitreous humour can begin to thicken or shrink, resulting in clumps forming within the eye, causing its separation from the retina.

This posterior vitreous detachment is most common in people who:

  • Are myopic
  • Have been operated on for cataracts
  • Have undergone laser surgery on the eye
  • Suffer from inflammation inside the eye

Diabetes is also considered to be a cause and, to a lesser degree, can be associated with serious eye conditions, such as uveitis, vitreous haemorrhage and retinal detachment.

How can they be prevented?

Floaters are not preventable. What is possible, however, is early detection of related complications.

It is advisable to consult an ophthalmologist if:

  • New floaters appear suddenly
  • Flashes of light are suddenly visible
  • A loss of side vision is experienced

Floaters appear as small deposits that can impair vision.

They can have different shapes: small dots, circles, lines, clouds or shapes that resemble small animals, which is why they are also known as ‘flying flies’.

The main recommendation is to learn to live with floaters and follow the advice below:

  • Avoid following their movements with your vision or focusing on them
  • Avoid looking at just light surfaces; look at surfaces with various shades of colour

In exceptional cases, it may be necessary to undergo vitrectomy surgery, which involves removing the vitreous humour and replacing it with a saline solution.

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