Floaters - Causes

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What are the causes of eye floaters?

Any eye condition in which the clarity of the vitreous humor is altered can produce the symptom of eye floaters. As one gets older, changes normally begin within the vitreous humor. The vitreous jelly naturally undergoes some liquefaction, resulting in small pockets of more liquid vitreous lying within the firmer gel. This is called vitreous syneresis. The boundary between each liquid pocket and the gel may be noticeable to the person as one or more eye floaters. In addition, it is normal for the collagen fibers that are within the vitreous to become thickened and denser with age, resulting in eye floaters. Any person who is over the age of 50 will have these changes within their eyes. However, the degree of eye floaters produced by these typical changes will vary from person to person.

As the vitreous normally ages, the gelatinous structure also begins to shrink within the space that it occupies. This shrinkage often leads to the back surface of the vitreous moving forward within that space. The vitreous is normally attached to the edges of the optic nerve. As the vitreous shrinks, this attachment to the optic nerve may release, and this former attachment now floats within the eye, causing one or more eye floaters which can sometimes seem very large and circular in shape. In addition, the back surface of the vitreous, now floating within the eye, will also cast shadows onto the retina, producing eye floaters. This shrinkage and pulling away of the back of the vitreous is called a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) or posterior vitreous separation. It is not the same as a retinal detachment. About 50% of people aged 65 will have a PVD in one or both eyes. A person developing a PVD in one eye is likely to develop a PVD in the other eye within the following 18 months.

In addition to vitreous syneresis and posterior vitreous detachments, both of which are normal occurrences that cause eye floaters, there are a large number of abnormalities in the eyes that may also cause the symptoms of eye floaters. Any cellular material within the vitreous may cause eye floaters. Red blood cells as a result of hemorrhage and white blood cells as a result of inflammation are common types of cellular material causing eye floaters. Hemorrhage into the vitreous may be a result of injury, diabetic retinopathy, a retinal tear through a blood vessel, or eye surgery. Inflammation in the vitreous may be caused by uveitis, injury, infection, or eye surgery.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: Jamie, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: October 15

I have suffered eye injuries playing real tennis here in the UK ('court tennis' in the US). Unlike lawn tennis, the ball is hard and solid. Both eyes have been hit while playing on separate occasions and floaters have worsened significantly afterwards. I am short-sighted and have been told that with an enlarged and thus stretched eyeball, the back of the eye is more susceptible to the damage that this physical trauma can cause. Goggles may be the answer!

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Comment from: beezie, 75 or over Male (Patient) Published: April 11

Due to harsh neck exercises, left to right, forcefully for at least 15 minutes on each side, flashes and floaters developed, as the aqueous humor pulled away from the retina, 10 years ago. Fortunately, the retina did not require attention. Now, upon being prepared for cataract surgery, it has been noticed that the retina in the right eye has a wrinkle. Therefore, I urgently suggest if doing neck exercises do them gently and not more than a minute or two.

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