What are eye floaters?

Floaters are not defined
by what they look like, it’s more about how they move. So if you move your eye one direction and you get this drifting
thing moving in your vision, then move it away and there’s a lag and it drifts in different directions, those are floaters. They can be dots, lines, clouds, curtains; they can look like lots
of different things. The important thing about
them is the way they move. What floaters are is opacities, cloudy things or things within the jelly within your eye – that’s
called the vitreous. When we’re born, our eye
is filled with the vitreous and it’s perfectly transparent. As you get older, the vitreous gets little liquid patches and condensations of the collagen within the vitreous, and that means that you see floaters. It’s a little bit like cracking open an egg that’s been laid that day. The white of the egg,
which is like the vitreous, is clear, it’s firm, it’s transparent. If you crack open an egg
that’s three or four weeks old, the white’s much more watery, spreads out and has stringy bits in it. That’s the same change that takes place in an egg in a few weeks; it takes 40, 50, 60 years in an eye. Whenever thinking about floaters, the most important thing
is that if you’ve had a new onset of floaters – in other words, you’ve seen something
floating in your vision that you haven’t seen before – it’s extremely important ideally that you’re seen that
day, or the next morning at the latest, to make sure you haven’t got a torn retina or
even a detached retina. Leaving it for a few days
can cause serious harm and can mean the difference between either just having some simple
laser for a retinal tear, or going and having a full operation. It can also mean the difference between keeping your vision
and losing your vision. So it’s very important
you’re seen urgently if you get new floaters. The same applies to flashes
of light, like sparks, or shooting stars or lightning, that you potentially
notice more in the dark, but even if it’s during the day, you need to be seen urgently. Finally, if you start noticing a shadow in your peripheral
vision, so there’s a part of your vision that’s coming
in that you can’t see, there’s an area you can’t see, that’s also extremely important that you get seen for urgently. But if the floaters that are bothering you have been there for several
months or even years, then it’s not an urgent situation and you can be seen at
a routine appointment.

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