If You See Eye Floaters, It Could Be a Sign of This Chronic Condition

At some time or another, chances are you’ve seen “floaters” in your field of vision—small,…

At some time or another, chances are you’ve seen “floaters” in your field of vision—small, dust-like specks that seem to move when your eyes move. But just what are these fleeting shapes, and why do they appear? Experts say there are a few reasons floaters may work their way into your sight, and while they’re often harmless, they can also signal a serious problem in some cases. Read on to find out which chronic condition has been linked with eye floaters, and what else could be to blame for those strange shapes in your sight.

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Floaters can take a variety of shapes: they’re most often described as looking like dots, circles, thread-like strands, shadows, or cobwebs. “Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye,” explains the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). “Though these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside of it. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see.”

According to the Cleveland Clinic, many people experience floaters as a normal result of aging. “They usually aren’t something you need to be concerned about,” Clinic experts write. However, it’s important to note that floaters can also be a sign of a dangerous chronic condition which can eventually cause blindness. An ophthalmologist can help you determine whether your case is caused by something serious.

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Eye floaters may be harmless for some, but for others, they can signal diabetic retinopathy, a condition experienced by some diabetics. “Diabetic retinopathy is a common but serious complication of diabetes that affects the blood vessels in the retina of the eye,” explains Associated Retina Consultants, an Arizona-based ophthalmology group. “Diabetic retinopathy damages the blood vessels within the retinal tissue, causing them to leak fluid and distort vision. Early signs of diabetic retinopathy are blurry vision, floaters, loss of central vision and black spots in the area of vision,” they write.

Floaters are especially common in the more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy. The AAO explains that as the retina grows new blood vessels in a process known as “neovascularization,” they can “often bleed into the vitreous. If they only bleed a little, you might see a few dark floaters. If they bleed a lot, it might block all vision,” the organization warns.

Ultimately, this process can result in the eye can developing scar tissue, which can lead to a detached retina. This is considered a medical emergency which can cause permanent loss of vision, the Mayo Clinic warns.

young man looking at his eye in the mirror
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Floaters can occur in anyone, at any age. However, experts say that if you notice them before the age of 50, it could be the sign of a deeper problem. “For most people, eye floaters start to show up in their vision between the ages of 50 and 70,” explains the Cleveland Clinic. “You may want to check in with your eye doctor about persistent floaters you see at a younger age because it could be a sign of a more serious eye condition.”

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If diabetic retinopathy is a suspected cause for your floaters, you should also look out for other signs of diabetes. These include increase excessive thirst or hunger, frequent urination, fatigue, recurring infections, unexplained weight loss, numbness in the hands or feet, and certain skin symptoms, including darkened patches of skin.

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If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and notice floaters in your vision, it’s important to go for regular dilated eye exams. This will help your ophthalmologist track your condition’s progress and alert them if you begin showing signs of retinal detachment or scar tissue.

Experts say you may be able to reverse some of the effects of diabetic retinopathy by managing your blood sugar and blood pressure. By eating a low-sodium diet, taking insulin or other medications as prescribed, exercising, and otherwise taking care of your health, it may be possible to “bring some of your vision back,” says the AAO. More advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy may require medication, laser treatment, or even surgery.

Speak with your doctor if you notice persistent floaters in your vision—especially if you believe you could also have pre-diabetes or diabetes.

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