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What are those floaty things in your eye?

Mysterious Shadows in Your Vision

By love okerePublished 11 months ago 3 min read

Have you ever noticed tiny objects moving around in your field of vision? These peculiar shapes might resemble small worms or transparent blobs. However, as soon as you attempt to focus on them, they seem to disappear, only to reappear when you shift your gaze elsewhere. Before you rush to rinse out your eyes, let's explore what these enigmatic entities actually are.

These optical illusions are commonly known as floaters. Scientifically referred to as Muscae volitantes, which translates to "flying flies" in Latin, floaters can be somewhat bothersome. But here's the fascinating part: they are not bugs or any kind of external objects at all. Instead, they exist within your eyeball.

Floaters may appear to be alive since they move and change shape, but in reality, they are lifeless. These minuscule objects cast shadows on the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of your eye. They can be fragments of tissue, red blood cells, or clumps of protein. Suspended within the vitreous humor, the gel-like liquid that fills the interior of your eye, floaters drift along with your eye movements and exhibit a slight bouncing motion when your eye comes to a halt.

At times, floaters may be barely distinguishable. However, the closer they are to the retina, the more visible they become. This is comparable to holding your hand closer to a table illuminated by an overhead light, resulting in a sharper, more defined shadow. Floaters are particularly noticeable when you gaze at a uniform bright surface, such as a blank computer screen, a snowy landscape, or a clear sky. The consistency of the background makes it easier to distinguish these intriguing shadows.

Interestingly, the brightness of the light affects the behavior of floaters. When light is brighter, your pupil contracts. This has a similar effect to replacing a large diffuse light fixture with a single overhead light bulb, causing the shadow to appear clearer.

Now, there is another visual phenomenon that often gets mistaken for floaters but is, in fact, unrelated. If you have ever witnessed tiny dots of light darting around when you looked up at a bright blue sky, you have experienced what is known as the blue field entoptic phenomenon.

This phenomenon differs from floaters in a fundamental way. Instead of perceiving shadows, you are observing small moving windows that allow light to pass through to your retina. These windows are caused by white blood cells moving through the capillaries on the surface of your retina. These cells can be large enough to nearly fill a capillary, resulting in a plasma space opening up in front of them. Since the space and white blood cells are more transparent to blue light compared to the red blood cells typically present in capillaries, you perceive moving dots of light wherever this occurs. These dots follow the paths of your capillaries and pulsate in time with your pulse. Under ideal viewing conditions, you may even notice what appears to be a dark tail trailing behind the dot. This dark tail is created by the red blood cells that have accumulated behind the white blood cell.

Some science museums provide exhibits that involve screens emitting blue light, allowing visitors to observe these blue sky sprites more clearly than they would under normal circumstances.

While everyone experiences these visual effects to some degree, the number and type of floaters or entoptic phenomena can vary significantly. In the case of floaters, they often go unnoticed as our brain learns to ignore them. However, an unusually high number of floaters or floaters that obstruct your vision may be indicative of a more serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Ultimately, floaters and blue field entoptic phenomena serve as gentle reminders that our visual perception is shaped not only by the external world

but also by the intricate workings of our biology and minds. So, the next time you spot these mysterious shadows or moving dots in your vision, you can appreciate the fascinating interplay between your eyes, brain, and the world around you.


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