If you are reading these words on a bright screen, chances are you can also see nebulous clumps of blurry “floaters” swimming around in your eyes. So what are these things and where do they come from? As it turns out, they’re completely harmless, and kind of interesting once you learn they are actually shadows being cast onto your retina. Your eyeballs are filled with a clear gel-like fluid, known as vitreous humor, which helps to maintain the round shape of your eyes. The fluid is almost entirely made of water, but it’s also mixed with proteins and other substances. Occasionally some of these proteins will clump together, and as light passes through your lens it will encounter these protein clumps which results in a shadow being cast on your retina. The second cause of these floaters happens when this gel-like fluid tugs on the small blood vessels in the eyes, causing the blood vessels to burst which sends a tiny amount of blood to swim around in the fluid. When this small amount of blood clumps together, it too, will cast a shadow on your retina. These blood clump shadows quickly get absorbed into the fluid and disappear, while the protein clumps will stick around much longer. If these floaters get out of control, they can be easily removed with surgery, where doctors will remove the gel-like fluid and replace it with a saline fluid. (Photo courtesy of Dario Moschetta).
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