-The EYE Digest-
Floaters: The Definitive Guide to those Pesky Squiggles and Dots
Dots. Squiggly lines. Worms. Spots. Gnats. Some are large, some are small. Sometimes they move, sometimes they stay in one spot. They're especially prominent if we stare at the blue sky or a white background. What are those pesky things that interfere with our vision?
Vitreous floaters, or more simply, floaters, are a common ailment in the human eye. The majority of the US population reports seeing a floater that either bothers or hinders vision at some point in life.
So how do floaters occur?
Inside the eyeball, a clear gel-like substance called the vitreous humor resides. The vitreous humor helps give the eye its round shape and provides a clear unobstructed medium for light rays to pass through and focus on the retina. It comprises about 80% of the volume of the eye.
In our younger years, the vitreous presents as a solid, but as the eye ages the vitreous material slowly begins to liquefy and shrink. As the vitreous shrinks tiny, stringy solid remnants are left over. These remnants can float around and move in conjunction with eye movement. This movement of remnants is what we see as floaters.
How about that one large floater that came with flashing lights in my mid-50s?
Posterior vitreous detachment is a process where the vitreous separates from the retina. Initially, the vitreous starts out attached to retina much like wallpaper. Over time, as the vitreous goes through its usual wear-and-tear (as discussed in the previous paragraph), it can start to pull away from the retina. The beginning of the process can be thought of as a sort of "tugging" on the retina. This tugging creates the sensation of a flashing light due to the activation of retina, which in turn is neurological tissue. When the vitreous finally detaches, it leaves large and sometimes multiple floaters.
Can floaters be a sign of something more serious?
Yes. Floaters may be an ominous sign of retinal tears or detachments. Retinal tears or detachments are a medical emergency that require immediate attention. Other signs of retinal detachments are flashing lights or the feeling of a veil/curtain over the vision. If you experience any of these signs, it is important to see your eye doctor right away.
Floaters may also occur from infections, inflammation and injury. Once again, if you experience a floater outside of the norm, it is important to have an eye care professional examine your eyes.
Is there treatment for floaters?
For most individuals, floaters are unfortunate, pesky nuisance that requires not treatment. In very rare cases where floaters become dense and block vision, a vitrectomy may be performed. This process involves surgically removing the vitreous from the eye and replacing it with a solution or gas bubble. This procedure is very risky and is only done in special cases.
-Dr. Aaron Neufeld
Dr. Aaron Neufeld is the Chief Optometrist at Los Altos Optometric Group and primary author and editor of The EYE Digest.
To contact him with questions or make an appointment call: (650) 948-3700 or send him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org