Floaters are a visual phenomenon experienced by most people. They appear as small spots and even sometimes described as a spider web or a fly in people's vision. They are best seen in situations where there is little variation in contrast, such as looking at a blank wall or a blue sky. Floaters typically move with the movement of ones' eyes, however continue to move after the eyes stop moving.
Floaters are actually caused by shadows created through the normal aging related condensation of the vitreous jelly inside the eye. The vitreous jelly is a normal structure, which fills the central part of the eye and keeps the eyeball pressurized and expanded. Right from birth this jelly begins to develop small focal areas of condensation. This progresses throughout life. As a consequence, the shadows created by these condensations resulting in floaters become more numerous throughout life.
For most people, at some time in their 50's 60's or 70's, there will be a large condensation of the vitreous jelly, which happens quite suddenly and is perceived as a sudden onset of a large floater often with flashing lights. This is known as a vitreous separation. Usually this has no adverse consequences with the exception of a rather large new onset floater. Fortunately, as time passes, one learns to ignore this and occasionally the floater will move more peripherally. Less commonly, as the jelly shrinks, it can tug on the retina resulting in a hole or tear of the retina. A hole or tear of the retina can predispose one to a retinal detachment. Because of this, when one notes a sudden onset of flashing lights and floaters, we recommend an eye exam within a one to two week time frame.
Individuals who are quite nearsighted are prone to having more floaters as well as a vitreous separation at an earlier age.