What are eye floaters?
Eye floaters are extremely common and are sometimes associated with flashing lights in the eye, especially when they first appear. When they first appear, they normally affect one eye, but may affect both eyes at the same time.
In fact, they're so common, that approximately two thirds of the population will have eye floaters by the time they are in their mid sixties! However, they can occur at any age.
What causes floaters in the eye?
The commonest cause of floaters is called 'vitreous detachment'. The main section of the eyeball is filled with a special gel known as 'the vitreous'. Normally, the gel fills the back of the eye, and so the outer part of the gel is in contact with the retina (which lines the inside of the eye). As we get older, small pockets of fluid form within the gel. Eventually, some of this fluid moves in between the gel and the retina, causing the vitreous to peel away from the retina. The retina, which is like the film of a camera, is then able to see the outer part of this gel floating inside the eye - and this is what causes floaters.
Sometimes, when the vitreous gel comes away from the retina, it can cause a hole or tear to appear in the retina. This is because the vitreous gel sometimes has areas where it is strongly attached to the retina. As the gel falls away from the retina ( a bit like wall-paper falling from the wall), the gel can tear the retina ( like the wallpaper may take a piece of paint or plaster from the wall).