Wednesday, December 13, 2006


What are those black spots that you see sometimes? A few Googlers have asked me this because they have not been satisfied by their doctors' cursory response of "don't worry, they're fine."

Dr. Neil Freidman, our blog opthalmologist, sheds some light on the subject.

Those spots, lines, rings, or other odd shaped dark shapes that float in front of your eyes are called "floaters" and are actually inside the eye. They can be a bit anxiety provoking if you are not familiar with them.

The eye is filled with a clear gel called the vitreous. As we get older, the vitreous gel changes: it degenerates, liquifies, and shrinks. As this process occurs, the back surface of the vitreous gel, which is in contact with the retina, separates from the retina and one or more opacities form. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment. The opacities cast shadows on the retina and that is what we see floating in our vision, often mistaken for insects, hairs, or cobwebs.

The formation of floaters is a natural aging process that eventually occurs in everyone. The process is accelerated in certain eye conditions such as nearsightedness, inflammation, and retinal diseases, as well as after eye injuries or surgery.

The floater itself is not dangerous, but when a floater develops it can sometimes cause a tear in the retina, which can later develop into a retinal detachment. Therefore, it is important to have a careful examination to make sure the retina is not affected, especially when there is a sudden onset of a new floater accompanied by flashing lights.

With time, the floaters become less annoying. As the vitreous gel continues to shrink and liquefy, the floaters sink to the bottom of the eye and out of the central vision. Also we get accustomed to them and our brains learn to ignore them. They will always remain inside the eye, but we tend not to notice them...until the process occurs in the other eye.

Photo: courtesy of Midland Eye Institute.