What are eye floaters and what can be done about them?

Floaters in the eye can be cause for alarm for many patients. Knowing the difference between common floaters and symptoms of a retinal detachment can be sight-saving. A floater can take many shapes: small dots, lint-like objects, spider webs, rings and more. Floaters can be found in the vitreous, which is a gel-like structure located inside the eyeball. In the young, the vitreous is firm, but over time it begins to liquefy, which is the main reason patients see floaters. Floaters can start to become visible around age 40, but significantly increase after age 50. They are usually seen when looking at a white background, such as a white wall or at the sky. Anytime there is a new onset of floaters it is recommend you have a dilated retinal exam. This allows the eye doctor to rule out a retinal detachment. The symptoms of a retinal detachment can vary but may include new onset of floaters, flashes of light and/or a curtain-like shadow in the visual field. If you have any of these symptoms, you need to see an eye doctor as soon as possible.

Other conditions that cause vitreal floaters include: posterior vitreal detachment, diabetic retinopathy, nearsightedness, cataract surgery, eye injuries and inflammation.

For the most part, floaters are benign and don’t require treatment. They initially may be an annoyance but over time can become less prominent. Even though most patients do not require treatment for their floaters, there are treatments available if the floaters impair vision. Many patients simply learn to live with them, and over time the presence of floaters may become less obvious.

BRING IT UP

While floating objects in your field of vision are usually not a call for concern, always discuss any signs of floaters with your eyecare professional during your routine eye exam.

TREATMENTS

Laser Treatment

One such treatment is the use of a laser to break down the floaters. In this procedure, the laser is focused inside the retina and zaps the floaters to break them down. With this treatment, the patient may or may not notice an improvement in their floaters.

Vitrectomy

Another treatment is a vitrectomy. Vitrectomy is a surgery where the vitreous is removed from the eye. There are many risks associated with this surgery, which is why it’s not done unless there is a significant number of floaters. Surgery is recommended when floaters obscure a patient’s vision to the point they affect daily activities. This procedure is not recommended in younger patients. The most common side effect of this surgery is the development of a cataract, which then requires a second surgery to have it removed.