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Etiology of Eye Floaters
In most cases, the etiology of eye floaters involves an accumulation of proteins and/or debris in the vitreous humor of the eye - that jelly-like solution that fills the ocular cavity. Eye floaters are found behind the lens and in front of the retina. Persons with eye floaters describe them as dots, squiggly lines, or cobwebs in their fields of vision. The number of floaters can vary from one to hundreds, and they become more pronounced in bright light conditions.

Eye floaters are more common in older adults. This is because with age, the vitreous humor starts losing its shape, and the proteins that are normally dispersed in the solution may aggregate and become visible. What you see is actually the shadow of these strands of protein.

Perhaps the most common etiology of eye floaters is posterior vitreous detachment. This describes a condition characterized by the 'peeling away' of the vitreous humor from the retina. They may occur gradually or suddenly. People who are nearsighted are more at risk of posterior vitreous detachment, as are people who have undergone cataract surgery. When posterior vitreous detachment occurs, the person will typically experience eye floaters, or if floaters are present already, their number will quickly increase. Flashes of light may also be seen. Untreated, posterior vitreous detachment can cause retinal detachment or retinal tears.

Retinal tears can also occur independently of posterior vitreous detachment and this will also cause eye floaters to appear. About half of people over 50 will have some degree of vitreous detachment from the retina, and this can lead to a retinal tear. As the retina is pulled, small blood vessels in the retina may burst and blood may leak into the vitreous humor. This will cause the person to see black dots or smoke in the field of vision. Flashes of light can also be experienced. However, note that flashes of light do not necessarily indicate a retinal tear; other causes, such as migraines, can give rise to this phenomenon.

Another possible etiology of eye floaters is retinal detachment. This occurs when retinal tears are not treated immediately, and result in the retina separating from the wall of the eye. This will have serious repercussions on your vision, and may lead to blindness. Retinal detachments will also cause eye floaters to be experience, although this is one of the rare causes of floaters.

Other possible etiologies of eye floaters include eye infections, inflammations, eye injury and eye diseases. They can also arise as a complication of diabetes.


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