3 Must Know Facts about Eye Floaters

  Have you ever seen drifting spots, cobwebs or shadows in your vision? We call those visual floaters. In this article, we’re covering the three things that everyone needs to know about this common ocular condition. So let’s take a look.

What are eye floaters?

So visual floaters are actually one of the more common complaints that an eye doctor hears about every single day. If you’ve never experienced them, they show up as little spots just like gnats or bugs that seemed to drift or move out of our vision. As well as cobwebs that when you try to look at them, seem to always drift and move out of your way. So you can never quite catch up with them when these are a new experiences for somebody that can be pretty scary. I want you to realize what’s going on so that you can get it treated and taken care of right away. So let’s go over my top three things you need to know about visual floaters.

Floaters are a normal part of aging.

Number one is that floaters are a normal part of aging. There’s a gel that sits inside the eye. We call it the vitreous humor. It takes about 90% of the eyes' volume, keeps the eye's shape, and acts almost like a cushion for the eye in any sort of episode of trauma. 

This gel actually degrades over time into more of a liquid when that happens the pieces of the collagen of the gel that are left start to form little deposits and strands. They sit inside that liquid and that’s what gives us that floating appearance as it kind of drifts back and forth when light enters the eye and hits those deposits. It causes light to scatter, giving us kind of a shadow image onto the retina on the back of the eye. That’s exactly why we see floaters. 

eye ball

Floaters are a normal part of aging and if you hit around the age of 60 or higher, you already have a 25% chance of having these floaters. If you reach the age of 80, you’re at about a 66% chance. But it’s not just due to age, there are some eye conditions that predispose you to have these floaters earlier on such as being very nearsighted. Floaters are generally a normal experience for everyone as we get older and even more so for people who have a higher prescription.

Retinal Tear or Retinal Detachment

So that brings us to the second thing that everyone needs to know about floaters. That’s the risk of what's called a retinal tear or a retinal detachment. You see that gel that’s inside the eye has an outer layer. That’s made of more collagen. We call that the vitreous cortex and it acts like a shell but it’s attached to the retina on the very back surface of the eye. As that gel starts to degrade and turn more into a liquid, it peels away from the back of the retina and occasionally it can tug on the retina. And the outer edges start off and when that happens it acts like you’re pulling onto a poster off of the wall and it can actually cause a little tear, a complete hole or it can even rip off the entire retina from the back of the eye. 

A retinal detachment is a true ocular emergency. Now sometimes there is no warning sign of a retinal tear or detachment but frequently people complain that they have a sudden onset of new floaters or there’s a bright flash of light in their eye off to their side of like a camera flash, or a lightning bolt. That occurs because the peeling of the back of the eye from the retina causes a physiological excitation of the retina and our brain interprets that as a flash of light now if you’re experiencing any of those signs and symptoms.

eye health

Additionally, because of those same peeling forces of the gel from the retina and the back of the eye, there can be some other complications, particularly when it comes to what’s called the macula. The macula is the central part of our retina that gives us our crystal-clear vision looking straight ahead. So if that gel starts to peel away from the macula, it can tug on the macula and cause the development of what’s called macular edema which are little cysts like developments within the retina causing our vision to be blurry. And once it peels away, another serious consequence is a development of a macular hole which is the same thing as the kind of the retinal hole off to the sides from the jel. So when you’re looking straight ahead, you can no longer see directly what you want to look at. It makes things very difficult for people to read or drive to see clearly. People may even become legally blind from that condition.

eye floaters

Eye Floaters Treatments

So the third thing that everybody needs to know about floaters is the treatment options available. For floaters, there are generally two different treatments. One is what are we called a vite trek. This is the oldest type of procedure for correcting floaters. It surgically removes the gel from inside the eye, and sucks it out while simultaneously putting a new fluid inside the eye to keep the eyes shape and keep the eye pressure. It removes all the gel so all the floaters go with it. The reason why many doctors don’t recommend this procedure is that there’s a higher rate of complications. You’re only a good candidate for the procedure if your vision is significantly affected by these floaters. 

The other option actually came out pretty recently. The development of a new laser procedure where they can zap away the floaters inside the eye. It has a higher success rate but still has small complications.