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Some of us have been there and others of us will get there eventually. Ever seen the fun little dots and squiggles stream by your line of vision? Those are called “floaters.” Floaters are small stuck-together pieces of the eye's vitreous jelly. This is a common aging sign of the eye and happens to most people, but they can be quite annoying and can also signify other eye health problems.
To understand eye floaters, first one must understand the infrastructure of the eye. The eyeball is a hollowed organ containing many parts. Well-known parts of the eye include the cornea, retina, and pupil, but not many people talk about the vitreous gel within the inner eye.
The vitreous gel and the cornea share a similar make up, but the vitreous is made of 98-99% water and includes salts, sugars, fibers, a variety of proteins (in extremely small amounts), and a fancy sugar acid. With only 2% of this material actually being a solid, the inner eye is mostly comprised of water, making this solution impressive considering the support it gives our outer eye to not cave in. This is due to the mixture creating a viscosity that is much stronger than water alone.
As we age the viscosity begins to fail and the vitreous gel begins to breakdown and liquefy. As this happens all of the fibers and sugars and salts become free and travel easier in the lighter water-like constancy. Because of its placement in accordance with the retina, all of these little particles become visible to us as the inner eye gel breaks down. Thus…we have floaters.
Aging is not always the reason for the breakdown in the solution. Many eye problems can cause a breakdown of the vitreous and once it presents as a symptom, it is usually time to get it checked out - especially if it seems like things are whizzing past your vision like they did in the Wizard of Oz tornado.
Some common problems that can cause the vitreous gel to break apart include inflammations in the back of the eye, bleeding in the eye, and a torn or detached retina. Other symptoms of a failing vitreous include light flashes and darkness in your peripheral vision. If you notice you have eye floaters and they are in a large volume or becoming worse, have a conversation with your trusted eye-doctor.