Eye Floaters: The Causes and What You Can Do
Ever experience small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision? These are called eye floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank white wall or blue sky. They can appear as black or gray dots or threadlike stands that drift about when you move your eyes and appear to dart away when you try to look at them directly.
Symptoms of Eye Floaters
Once you develop eye floaters, they usually do not go away, though they tend to improve over time. Eye floaters can appear in many different shapes, such as:
- Black or gray dots
- Squiggly lines
- Threadlike strands, which can be knobby and semi-transparent
- Ring shaped
Contact an eye specialist immediately if you notice:
- Many more eye floaters than usual
- A sudden onset of new floaters
- Flashes of light
- Darkness on the sides of your vision (peripheral vision loss)
Causes of Eye Floaters
Eye floaters are caused by age-related changes that occur as the jelly-like substance (vitreous) inside your eye becomes more liquid. As you age, the vitreous and its millions of fine collagen fibers shrink and become shred-like. As it shrinks, this attachment to the optic nerve may release, and this former attachment floats within the eye. As a result, the back surface of the vitreous that floats within the eye casts a shadow onto the retina, producing eye floaters.
These changes can occur at any age, most often between ages 50 and 75 and for those who are very nearsighted or have had cataract surgery.
Rarely, but still possible, eye floaters can result from other eye surgeries or eye diseases, eye injuries, diabetic retinopathy, or crystal-like deposits that form in the vitreous among others.
Treatment of Eye Floaters
Benign eye floaters never require medical treatment. If they are bothersome, you can move them away from your vision by shifting your eyes. This move shifts the fluid in your eyes, and looking up and down is usually more effective than looking from side to side.
If eye floaters are so dense that they impact your vision, consult your eye doctor about a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy. During this procedure, the vitreous and its floating debris are removed and replaced with a salt solution. Risks associated with this procedure may include: retinal detachment, retinal tears, or cataracts. The likelihood of these risks is rare, but if they occur they can result in permanent damage. For this reason, most surgeons do not perform a vitrectomy unless eye floaters are causing an extraordinary visual handicap.
An alternative procedure is laser vitreolysis, a much safer alternative to a vitrectomy for eye floater treatment. In this in-office procedure, a laser beam is projected into the eye through the pupil and is targeted on large floaters. During this process, the laser beam breaks the floaters apart and vaporizes them so they disappear or become much less bothersome. Consult your doctor to determine whether this procedure is right for you. Considerations may include age, how quickly your symptoms started, what your floaters look like, and where they are located.
For patients under age 45, the floaters may be located too close to the retina and can’t be safely treated with laser vitreolysis. Patients with sizable eye floaters located farther away from the retina are ideal candidates for the procedure.
What Types of Doctor Should I Consult?
If you develop eye floaters, schedule an appointment with a professional trained in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease. These include ophthalmologists and optometrists.
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. They can deliver total eye care, including performing a complete eye examination, prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses, diagnosing and treating eye diseases, and performing surgery on the eyes and areas around the eye.
An optometrist is a doctor of optometry. Licensed by the individual states to practice optometry, optometrists can perform an eye examination and can determine the presence of vision-related problems. They can also prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses. Depending on the state they are licensed in, they may be allowed to treat eye diseases and prescribe eye drops for various conditions, but they are not trained or licensed to perform surgery.
No matter your eye health issue or the help you’re seeking, the team of ophthalmologists and optometrists at Advanced Eye Medical can help. Get in contact with us today.