How To Understand Eye Floaters

Man with eye floaters

There you are, lying on a bed of grass staring up into the almost impossibly blue sky. Perfectly content... but then you notice a dark little speck or strand in your field of vision, distracting you from your reverie. You rub your eye to try to flush out whatever is in there, only to find that the speck remains, darting back and forth with the movement of your gaze. You're one of the great many people who have eye floaters.

  1. Why didn't the eye rubbing get rid of the floater? The eye-rubbing didn't work because eye floaters are not on the surface of the eye, but rather are located within the vitreous humor of the eye. Normally, the vitreous humor (the gel-like orb that makes up the bulk of our eyeball) is transparent and casts no shadow on our retina. Eye floaters are the result of tiny clumps that can form within the vitreous humor; when we see floaters as we look up at the sky or at a white wall, we're looking at the shadows that these clumps throw onto our light-sensitive retinas.
  2. Are eye floaters a symptom of a more serious problem? In most cases (and eye floaters are quite common), the presence of one or a couple floaters is simply a result of our aging. As we age, our vitreous humor shrinks very gradually. The vitreous humor is composed almost entirely of water, but owes its gel-like nature to the minute presence of solid material like collagen. As the vitreous shrinks, the collagen tends to become fibrous. This fibrous collagen appears as floaters in our field of vision. Eye floaters of this kind are merely a nuisance, signifying no serious underlying medical condition whatsoever.

    In some cases, however, eye floaters can indicate the need for medical attention. Though far less common as the natural aging explanation, there are other conditions that can cause eye floaters, including infection, retinal or vitreous detachment, retinal tear, uveitis or infection, among others. If you notice a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters, or when the appearance of floaters coincides with "flashers" (bright flashes of light in your vision) or increasing haziness of vision, you should swiftly schedule an appointment with an eye doctor to ensure that no serious medical condition is responsible for your eye floaters.

  3. How do I get rid of eye floaters? getting rid of eye floatersRecommended treatment really depends upon the severity of your case of eye floaters. For patients who encounter only a couple floaters, their eye floater nuisance is relatively unobtrusive and no treatment will be suggested for them. In fact, many times the eye floaters will simply settle down outside of your field of vision, so that most people who have had eye floaters for a longer period of time report that they no longer even notice them.

    However, in severe cases when eye floaters are so large and prevalent that they truly impair a patient's vision, the eye doctor will consider a couple courses of action. The first, a vitrectomy, involves the surgical removal of eye floaters in the vitreous humor. But to remove these eye floaters, the entire vitreous humor of your eye is drained and replaced by a salt water solution. In successful operations, the patient notices no difference in vision through the new vitreous mass and can enjoy the absence of eye floaters. But the procedure carries great risk of retinal detachment, cataract and blindness; most doctors will not recommend vitrectomy.

    The other treatment option for severe eye floaters is laser vitreolysis, which involves the breaking up of eye floaters with a precision laser. Though the risk of eye damage is less with this treatment, its value is a subject of debate.

As is true any time that you notice a change in your vision, scheduling an appointment with an eye doctor is prudent when you first notice one or more eye floaters. The important thing is to never let your floaters detract from your appreciation of that beautiful blue sky.

 

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