ROMNEY WORDSWORTH – Have you ever experienced seeing things lazily swimming in your field of vision that look like little microbes?  When you tried to focus on them, did they disappear, only to reappear later when you shift your gaze or blink your eyes?

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What you are seeing is a known phenomenon.  The medical term is called “Muscae Volitantes”, which is Latin for “Flying Flies”.  These aren’t flies, worms, protozoa, or any external organism.  Nor are they dust on your cornea.  Floaters are actually produced by items inside your own eyeball.  They are tiny bits of cells which are floating inside the fluid of your eyeball.  If they happen to float between the light entering your iris and the retina nerves at the back of your inner eyeball, they cast a shadow which your brain then interprets as an object seemingly floating just in front of your eyes. 

Floaters can be caused by bits of tissue, blood cells, or clumps of proteins.  Because they are suspended in the fluid of the eyeball, they seem to move when your eyes move, because they actually are drifting and moving in response to the movements of your ocular muscles.

Why don’t you see floaters all the time?  You only see floaters occasionally when bits of tissue are in close proximity to the retina nerves.  When they are farther away, say in the middle or the front of the eyeball, they are too far away for the retina to focus on and transmit an image to the brain to interpret.  This is a similar effect to objects close to the Sun, which are drowned out by the intense light.  So too is the light entering your iris, which is normally bright enough to drown out any microscopic bits of matter floating in the eyeball from being detected by the retina. 

Floaters are more noticeable when you are looking at a surface with a consistent lighting intensity, such as a computer screen, TV screen, or clear blue sky.  Inconsistent lighting creates contrasts that obscure floaters from the retina, which become absorbed with discerning the meaning of light containing flashes and shadows.

Floaters can sometimes be disconcerting or even frightening to children.  Other children have their imaginations stimulated, much like staring at clouds and seeing images and forms within.

Which sort of child were you?