Eye health is an important concern at any age, but especially for children. As kids' eyes grow and develop, changes occur that can permanently affect their eyesight. Paying close attention to any changes in their vision is important to prevent sometimes severe injuries or conditions. One optical phenomenon that requires careful monitoring is the presence of floaters in the eye.
Floaters are the colloquial name for a condition that most people experience at some point in their life. Semi-transparent blobs, threads or spots can appear in one or both eyes and seem to float around when the eyes move. In most cases, these are no more than a distraction and quickly settle out of the field of vision.
The vitreous is a gel that fills the inside of the eye, maintaining its shape. This gel starts out with a thick consistency, but as you age it begins to break down and become more liquid in the center. As it breaks down, sometimes undissolved particles break loose from the surrounding walls and float through the center of the eye, casting shadows on the retina. The brain interprets these shadows as floaters.
While floaters can appear at any age, large numbers of them are rare in children. A sudden increase in floaters, especially when coupled with flashes of light or other visual disturbances, can indicate the possibility of an impending retinal tear or detachment. In these cases, the vitreous is pulling away from the retina at the back of the eye and the brain interprets this sensation as flashes or other visual artifacts. If the vitreous actually pulls away part of the retina, it can require surgery to restore sight in that eye.
Generally, floaters will go away by themselves without any sort of treatment, but it can take weeks or even months for them to dissipate. The only treatment for floaters currently is a complete victrectomy, in which a surgeon removes the vitreous completely and replaces it with a saline solution to keep the eye's pressure and shape. This is a major procedure, however, and ophthalmologists usually only perform it in the most severe cases, when floaters significantly reduce a patient's vision.
While all children should have regular eye exams and checkups with their optician, the presence of floaters at an early age may mean that more frequent checkups are needed. Floaters can be an indicator of coming problems. Make sure your child knows to report any changes in his vision immediately.