What are Floaters?

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What are floaters? This is a commonly asked question. As some of you may have remembered during high school biology class while dissecting an eye of a cow, the center of the eye consists of a gelatinous material, known as the Vitreous Humor.

During the embryonic stages of the human fetus, there exists the Hyaloid Artery within the center of the eye which supplies nourishment to the lens. As the eye develops further during the latter stages of pregnancy, this artery breaks apart, thus allowing uninterrupted light to pass from the front to the rear of the eye. Remnants of this artery may exist in the vitreous, and cause the effect of "Floaters." These types of floaters are present during childhood.

As the human eye ages, the vitreous changes and will begin to shrink and liquefy. There are many middle-aged shooters who will experience this. The vitreous contains fibers which intertwine and attach onto the retina. These fibers may clump together as the vitreous shrinks and form different types of floaters. This shrinking may also tug on the retina, causing the appearance of light flashes. A retinal tear or detachment is also possible, which is an emergency situation.

Light entering the eye casts shadows of these floaters onto the retina. We're actually seeing the shadows of the floaters. Floaters may take on many forms, round, linear, stringy, cobweb and so on. They appear to drift as the eye moves. In time, floaters may settle and become less noticeable.

Bleeding inside the eye may also cause sudden numerous floaters to appear. Light flashes may also be a sign of ocular migraines, so a visit to the eye doctor is important.

Floaters are generally left alone because the risk of surgery outweighs the benefit. In severe cases, a vitrectomy could be performed. A fellow club member had a retinal detachment and vision was restored quite well after the operation. A few months later, severe floaters developed and a vitrectomy was done. As the eye heals, he is anxiously waiting to return to Bullseye.

Good Vision and Good Shooting to All,

Norman H. Wong, O.D.

Camp Perry National Matches - 2004