12 Jul Healthy Vision: What are Eye Floaters?
For Healthy Vision Month, we’re giving a close eye on eye floaters: those tiny specks or strings that float into your field of vision. They’re a nuisance, but shouldn’t cause any pain or discomfort.
Eye floaters can appear as black or gray dots, lines, cobwebs, or blobs. Occasionally, a large floater may cast a shadow over your vision and cause a large, dark spot in your sight.
Because the floaters are inside the fluid of your eye, they will move as your eyes move. If you try to look right at them, they’ll dart out of your vision.
Eye floaters commonly appear when you stare at a bright, plain surface, such as the sky, a reflective object, or blank paper. They may be present in only one eye, or they may be in both.
What causes eye floaters?
Age-related changes to the eye are the most common cause of eye floaters. The cornea and lens at the front of the eye focus light onto the retina at the back of the eye.
As the light passes from the front of the eye to the back, it passes through the vitreous humor, a jelly-like substance inside your eyeball.
Changes to the vitreous humor can lead to eye floaters. This is a common part of aging and is known as vitreous syneresis.
The thick vitreous begins to liquefy with age, and the inside of the eyeball becomes crowded with debris and deposits. The microscopic fibers inside the vitreous begin to clump together.
As they do, the debris can be caught in the path of the light as it passes through your eye. This will cast shadows on your retina, causing eye floaters.
Less common causes of eye floaters
- Eye injury. If the eye is hit by an object or damaged during an accident, you may experience more eye floaters
- Nearsightedness. People who are nearsighted experience eye floaters more frequently. Vitreous syneresis also occurs at a faster pace in people who have nearsighted vision
- Inflammation. Swelling and inflammation in the eye, often caused by infection, can cause eye floaters
- Diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels that lead to the retina. When those vessels become damaged, the retina may not be able to interpret the images and light hitting it.
- Deposits. Crystal-like deposits may form in the vitreous and interfere with light passing from the front of the eye to the back.
Eye floaters are most common after age 50.
How are eye floaters treated?
Most eye floaters don’t need any type of treatment. They are often only a nuisance in otherwise healthy people, and they rarely signal a more serious problem.
If a floater is temporarily obstructing your vision, roll your eyes from side to side and up and down to move the debris. As the fluid in your eye shifts, so will the floaters.
However, eye floaters can impair your vision, especially if the underlying condition worsens. The floaters may become so bothersome and numerous that you have difficulty seeing.
If this occurs, in rare cases your doctor may recommend treatment in the form of laser removal or surgery.
Treatment with laser removal or surgery
In laser removal, your ophthalmologist uses a laser to break up the eye floaters and make them less noticeable in your vision. Laser removal is not widely used because it’s considered experimental and carries serious risks such as retinal damage.
Another treatment option is surgery. Your ophthalmologist can remove the vitreous during a procedure called a vitrectomy.
After the vitreous has been removed it is replaced with a sterile salt solution that will help the eye maintain its natural shape. Over time, your body will replace the solution with its own natural fluid.
A vitrectomy may not remove all the eye floaters, and it will also not prevent new eye floaters from developing. This procedure, which is also considered highly risky, can cause damage or tears to the retina and bleeding.
What happens if eye floaters are not treated?
Eye floaters are rarely troublesome enough to cause additional problems, unless they are a symptom of a more serious condition. Though they will never fully disappear, they often improve over the course of a few weeks or months.
How can you prevent eye floaters?
Most eye floaters occur as part of the natural aging process. While you can’t prevent eye floaters, you can make sure they’re not the result of a larger problem.
As soon as you begin noticing eye floaters, see your ophthalmologist or optometrist. They will want to make sure your eye floaters are not a symptom of a more serious condition that could damage your vision.
3 ways to get rid of eye floaters
Treating eye floaters depends on the underlying cause. Some cases are harmless, but more severe cases can affect your eye health. If eye floaters begin to impair your vision, there are treatments available to make them less noticeable or remove them.
1 Ignore them
Sometimes the best treatment is nothing at all. In many cases, eye floaters will fade or disappear on their own. If they don’t fade, sometimes your brain will learn to ignore them. As a result, your vision will begin to adapt. You’ll no longer notice them as much.
Coping with eye floaters is the least invasive option to protect your eyes. If the floaters become a nuisance or begin to impair your vision, discuss your options with your eye doctor.
A vitrectomy is an invasive surgery that can remove eye floaters from your line of vision. Within this procedure, your eye doctor will remove the vitreous through a small incision. The vitreous is a clear, gel-like substance that keeps the shape of your eye round.
Your doctor will replace the vitreous with a solution to maintain the shape of your eye. Your body will then produce more vitreous that will eventually replace this new solution.
Though effective, a vitrectomy may not always remove eye floaters. It’s still possible for them to form again, specifically if this procedure causes any bleeding or trauma. This surgery is used for severe symptoms of floaters.
3 Laser therapy
Laser therapy involves aiming lasers at the eye floaters. This can cause them to break up and may reduce their presence. If the lasers are aimed incorrectly, you could risk damage to your retina.
This procedure isn’t the preferred treatment method since it’s still experimental. While seen as an effective treatment for some cases, some people have noticed little to no improvement. It can also worsen floaters in some instances. Discuss your options with your doctor before pursuing this method.
Summing it up…
Eye floaters can be an annoyance, but they often clear up on their own. Make sure to see your eye doctor immediately to make sure you don’t have any serious underlying eye conditions.
If eye floaters begin to impair your vision, there are treatments available. Discuss treatment options and any risks with your doctor to avoid further damage to your eyes.
This article was brought to you by the Proactive Health Management Plan in partnership with Healthline.