Eye Floaters and Excess Protein

By the time you reach a certain age, in your teens or early 20s, you will have most likely experienced floaters in your field of vision. Floaters are those tiny dots, strands and "cobwebs" of protein that drift in and out of view from time to time. Although they can be annoying, for the most part they are harmless. However, if you notice a marked increase in floaters or if they are accompanied by flashing lights, call your doctor immediately.

A close-up of a man's green eye. (Image: Alexandrum79/iStock/Getty Images)

The Vitreous Humor

The eye is filled with a viscous protein gel called the vitreous humor. It makes up about two-thirds of the volume of the eye and is mostly water, according to St. Luke's Cataract and Laser Institute. The vitreous humor is what gives the eyeball its shape. Early in life, the vitreous humor is thicker, having the consistency of an egg white. With age, it begins to thin out and become more liquid. As the vitreous humor becomes more liquid, little pieces pull away from the retina, causing the formation of floaters.

Causes of Floaters

You may first begin to notice eye floaters in your early 20s, or earlier if you are near-sighted. You can have them in one or both eyes, and they are so-named because they appear to "float" around aimlessly. You cannot focus on them because they move with the eye itself. They are small bits of protein, including pieces of vitreous humor, white blood cells and even blood, according to the University of Illinois. As floaters drift through the vitreous humor, they cast a shadow on the retina, making them appear visible. Eye floaters are most noticeable when you look at the bright sky or a blank white wall.

Treatment

While they certainly can be annoying, for the most part eye floaters are considered a normal part of aging. Although they never completely go away, most will drift down to the bottom of the vitreous humor out of your line of sight, only bothering you occasionally. There is no treatment for the typical eye floaters. In extreme cases, where there are a multitude of floaters interfering with vision, it's possible to have the vitreous humor replaced with a solution of saline. This surgery is very risky and not performed routinely.

Emergency Situation

In some cases, floaters can be an indicator of a more serious problem. If you experience a shower of new floaters in your vision accompanied by flashing lights, you should contact your doctor right away. It's possible your retina is torn or pulled completely away in one spot. This is called a torn or detached retina. The All About Vision website states this can cause of a loss of blood supply to the retina, resulting in loss of vision. If it is not treated immediately, this vision loss can be permanent.

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