Weird, wacky & wonderful: Muscae Volitantis

Ever think you’ve seen a creepy crawly out of the corner of your eye but when you turn around there’s nothing there? Alright, sometimes that is because there really was a speedy ninja bug in the room, but a lot of the time what we are actually seeing is a detached protein or cell fragment within the eye itself.

Known as Muscae Volitantes, they appear as opaque black specks or sometimes black threads that drift across a person’s field of vision. The fragments are travelling through the vitreous body (also called the vitreous humor), which is the transparent gelatinous substance that fills the space between the retina at the back of the eye and the lens at the front of the eye. Occasionally the fragments can travel across the lens itself. The particles are only visible to the individual and cannot be seen in your eye by others without specialised lights and magnifying devices used by ophthalmologists.

“It can be disturbing when a spot suddenly appears across your vision”

The likelihood of seeing these floating fragments increases as we get older as the eye naturally deteriorates with age however it is possible for younger people and in particular short-sighted people to see them too. These tiny ‘eye floaters’ are caused when the structure of the vitreous body changes as it naturally dries and thins. It is only when they pass close to the retina that we can see them.

Although it can be disturbing when a spot suddenly appears across your vision, they are totally harmless and cannot lead to a loss or deterioration of sight. A person has an increased chance of seeing the fragments after they have stared at a bright surface for too long, such as the sky, a white wall, or even the page of a book. People who do see the particles throughout their life simply get used to them and ignore them as they do not cause any problems.

“The likelihood of seeing these floating fragments increases as we get older”

However, while muscae volitantes is usually completely benign, it can sometimes be a symptom of a larger issue. If the lens or retina is damaged a person can see a much greater increase of the opaque fragments yet be unable to see the damage to the rest of the eye. If you are concerned visit an ophthalmologist.

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