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What are those black spots in my vision?

A common query ophthalmologists receive is regarding the black spots in our vision. These dots and lines (floaters) are common, harmless, and have a simple explanation.

Floaters are caused by age-related changes to the jelly-like substance (vitreous) inside the eye. See a specialist if they come about suddenly and become permanent, or if accompanied by flashes of light or peripheral vision loss.

 

What are floaters?

The dots and lines that drift across our vision are called “floaters”. They are typically temporary and harmless.

The jelly-like substance inside the eyes is called “vitreous”. It is a viscous clear fluid composed almost entirely of water and tiny amounts of salts, sugars, proteins, and collagen. As a person gets older, the vitreous is renewed less frequently and small fiber clumps made from collagen begin to form. If these lumps flow between the retina and the lens, they cast a shadow which we visualise as black spots.

 

What causes floaters?

Floaters are typically a natural process caused by aging. They usually occur between the ages of 50 and 75, and their likelihood is higher in people who are near-sighted or have had cataract surgery.

Other causes include:

  • Eye injuries. It is important to see a doctor if floaters appear after a physical blow.
  • Eye disorders such as torn retina, diabetic retinopathy or posterior uveitis.
  • Hereditary. Like many disorders, a genetic disposition can also play a role.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle. Not keeping the eyes properly hydrated, not eating enough fruit and vegetables, or consuming too much alcohol and tobacco, are all factors that can negatively impact our eyes’ health.

 

When should I see a doctor?

See a specialist if eye floaters appear very suddenly and become permanent, if they are accompanied by flashes of light, or if you notice peripheral vision loss.

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