Looking at what causes eye floaters

The strands, particles and specks that drift through your line of vision can be annoying. They are commonly referred to as “floaters” and typically related to age-related changes in the eye.

The movement of debris in the vision can be attributed to several causes, all of which pertain to the jelly-filled cavity between the lens of the eye and retina.

P. Kumar Rao, MD, a Washington University ophthalmologist says, “As we age, this vitreous jelly tends to break down and liquefy – causing debris to appear. This process is called vitreous syneresis, and is the most common cause of floaters. Vitreous syneresis can make the jelly pull away from the surface of the retina. This can cause us to see flashing lights. The retina itself does not have pain receptors, so when it is stimulated it can only tell our brains that it sees light.

When the jelly becomes completely detached from the surface of the retina, it is called a posterior vitreous detachment. Typically, this is diagnosed when a ring of fibrous tissue is observed floating in the vitreous cavity. This debris can settle towards the center of vision, periodically obscuring the vision.”

Other causes for visual debris are bleeding in the eye or inflammation. Bleeding in the eye can be seen in conditions in which the small blood vessels in the retina are damaged, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension. Typically, bleeding in the eye causes vision loss, but is painless.

Debris due to inflammation is called uveitis. The uvea is the highly vascular middle layer of the eye. When it is inflamed, cells can be kicked off into the vitreous and a patient may notice floaters. Typically, uveitis is associated with pain and vision loss.

Dr. Rao warns, “If you experience new or worsened floaters, flashing lights, or a dark curtain obscuring a portion of vision, notify your ophthalmologist immediately to evaluate the cause. The biggest concern with these conditions is a retinal tear or detachment, which can lead to severe vision loss if not treated promptly.”

If you are concerned about visual debris, please call 314-362-EYES for an appointment.

Dr. Rao sees patients at two convenient locations:

Eye Center in South County
11188 Tesson Ferry Road, Suite 100

Eye Center in the Center for Advanced Medicine
4921 Parkview Place, 12th floor, Suite C