Are you seeing spots? Floaters are those little specs or spots you can sometimes see when you look at a bright computer screen or into white light. In most cases floaters are completely harmless. However, if your vision is blurred, blocked, or you have noticed a sudden increase in the amount of floaters, it could be a sign of a more serious condition.
What Are Floaters and What Causes Them?
Eye floaters are typically benign and not a cause for alarm. People usually notice floaters when they look at something bright like a computer screen or a white wall. They vary in size and shape, and may look grey or black. They may appear as cobwebs, strings, or small dots that drift through your line of sight or move with your eyes.
Floaters occur naturally as we age. Although in rarer instances, they are linked with serious illness and could potentially threaten the health of your eyes—occasionally leading to blindness. If you have noticed a sudden and vast increase in the amount of floaters you are seeing you could have a torn retina and should seek medical attention immediately.
Your eyeball is full of a thick jelly-like substance called vitreous. As you age the vitreous thins and liquefies. Bits of broken down vitreous float freely, and as light comes in to your eye, the debris cast shadows onto your retina. This is what causes you to see floaters.
When to See Your Doctor
Age-related deterioration of the vitreous is the most common cause of floaters. There is no treatment for these, unless they become so burdensome they actually blur or block your vision completely. In rare instances floaters are a symptom of a more serious condition and need immediate attention.
Posterior Uveitis: Floaters occur to someone who has severe inflammation on the layers of their retina. This happens to a person who is suffering with an autoimmune disease, has a tumour, or to a person who has experienced trauma to the eye or head. Posterior Uveitis is sometimes linked to another illness and is classified as an idiopathy—a disease of unknown pathogenesis.
Vitreous Hemorrhaging: Floaters are also a symptom of bleeding in your eyes. This happens as a result of injury to the head or eyes, as well as someone with problems related to the blood vessels in their eyes.
Torn Retina: The retina is the thin layer at the back of the eyeball attached to the choroid tissue or outer wall of the eyeball. Your retina is responsible for helping you to see. A retinal tear is a disease that can happen with age, which causes the retina to peel itself away from the choroid tissue. If untreated it can detach completely, leading to blindness.
A person who is experiencing a retinal tear will see flashes of light and notice a sudden dramatic increase in the amount of floaters blurring their vision. If you are concerned that you are suffering with any of these conditions, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away.
Treating a Detached Retina
Retinal detachment can happen to a person who has been injured or hit in the head with intense force. However, it can also happen at random with seemingly no cause at all. Treating a detached retina is extremely important. If left untreated the patient will eventually go blind.
Cryotherapy: During this surgery the deteriorated retina is frozen to prevent spreading.
Scleral Buckle Surgery: This procedure is usually used in conjunction to another treatment. The operation requires a surgeon to sew silicon bands to the sclera, or the outer white part of your eye—permanently holding the retina in place.
Pneumatic Retinopexy: This operation uses water and gas to pump the eyeball and retina back into its proper shape. The substance acts as a replacement for vitreous and forces the retina in place while holding the shape of the eyeball.
These treatments have an 85% success rate on the first try. The remaining 15% of cases find success within two treatments.
How Are They Treated?
In most cases floaters are not treated at all. In serious situations the treatment is dependent on the cause and severity of the floaters.
Laser Therapy: When floaters impair a person’s vision, a doctor will use lasers to break them up and clear them away. Although this procedure is only recommended as a last result as it is still a very new process.
Vitrectomy: This surgery is also a last resort and is only used for extreme cases. During this procedure a doctor will remove all of the vitreous in the eyeball, replacing it with gas or a silicon oil to temporarily maintain the shape of the eyeball. Eventually, your body replaces this liquid with its own fluid.
The best treatment for floaters is prevention—by taking care of your eyes and overall health. Some doctors believe that floaters happen more frequently in patients who have poor health, lack basic nutrition, and experience high levels of stress. Be gentle with your eyes, take care of your body, and schedule appointments with your ophthalmologist to watch for any possible floater abnormalities.