Floaters are a fairly common eye condition, and they tend to get worse with age. While floaters are generally not serious, they are sometimes a sign of a retinal tear, which can lead to blindness. For that reason, you don't want to ignore floaters, especially if they suddenly increase in number or size. Here are a few things you should know about eye floaters. 

What They Are

Eye floaters are small dark spots that cross your field of vision. They tend to come and go. You may notice them more if you look at the bright sky or at a white background. They can be squiggly lines or small dots. Floaters are caused by clumps of cells floating in the gel portion of your eye. What you see is actually the shadow of the clumps as they pass by your retina.

Floaters are often accompanied by flashes. Flashes are similar to floaters except they are like flashes of light rather than dark spots. Flashes occur when the gel part of the eye tugs on your retina. Since the gel slowly shrinks with age, it pulls away from the retina with increasing frequency. This is why you experience more floaters and flashes in your vision as a normal part of aging.

When To Be Concerned

Even if you have good vision, you should get regular eye exams as you age so your ophthalmologist can track your eye health. This lets you know early on if you have problems with cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, or retinal detachment. Plus, the eye doctor can put your mind at rest over your normal eye floaters.

You should be concerned about a sudden change in your floaters. Call an ophthalmologist (such as Jo Johnson, M.D.) if the floaters increase in number, size, or shape. Floaters and flashes are associated with retinal tears and a retinal detachment. As the gel portion of your eye pulls away from the retina, it can cause a tear or even detach completely. When that happens, you'll notice a sudden visual disturbance. A large shadow may develop along the outside of your vision. Any sudden visual change should be reported to your eye doctor. A retinal tear can be treated in your ophthalmologist's office with a laser procedure. A serious tear or detachment could result in blindness, so that's why you don't want to ignore changes in your floaters.

Treatment For Eye Floaters

Eye floaters caused by aging usually don't require treatment. The floaters themselves don't pose a problem other than being annoying. You may be able to clear them from your vision by quickly shifting your eyes up and down. If you have a lot of floaters and they interfere with your quality of life, your ophthalmologist may perform surgery that removes part of the gel in your eye and replaces it with a salt solution. However, treatment usually isn't needed unless your floaters are associated with an eye condition such as diabetic retinopathy or retinal detachment. Your ophthalmologist will treat the underlying condition and that may help your floaters too.

If you're fortunate, the floaters may go away on their own, or you may get so used to them, you barely notice they are there. As long as you have regular examinations from your eye doctor to monitor your overall eye health, you can accept seeing floaters and flashes as a sign of normal aging.