When patients experience what Optometrists often refer to as “floaters” there are typically three common questions/concerns that follow next: what are floaters, why do I get them, and is there anything I can do to get rid of them? Admittedly, your Optometrist would like to add a 4th question to that list: when should I tell my eye doctor about my floaters?
What are floaters, and why do I get them?
Floaters are often described to Optometrists by their patients in a myriad of subjective ways: black or clear colored dots, lines, bugs, or even little hairs that all seem to be in your vision. However, the thing about floaters that tends to drive patients nuts is that you can’t quite get rid of them by swatting at them or you spend time searching for that endless hair that really doesn’t exist. That’s because floaters are inside of your eye.
The natural anatomy of the eye can be described sort of like a ball; inside of that ball is a thick jelly called the vitreous humor. The vitreous has many responsibilities such as: providing structure to the eye, absorbing energy during fast eye movements, and carrying immune cells to help protect the eye. In health, the vitreous is clear so that light can pass through it easily and ultimately reach the retina. However, as we age, the vitreous, like many other things, starts to change.
Age causes the vitreous to clump together in certain places. When this happens, the previously clear vitreous that we aren’t used to seeing, becomes a more condensed and non-consistent vitreous. We then start to see these areas of condensation as light passes through the vitreous – and this is what we see when we say we have floaters.
With that being said, it makes sense that patients often report floaters when they are working in brightly lit atmospheres or are looking at bright white backgrounds.
Is there anything I can do to get rid of my floaters?
Once patients understand what their floaters are, the next question they ask their eye doctor is almost always “how do I make them go away”. Your eye doctor understands that your floaters are not always pleasant and are even distracting – we get them too! However, the solution to most floaters is patience. With time, some floaters may start to move and settle to the bottom of the vitreous which helps them become less visible. Gravity is great for this! On the other hand, some floaters stay stable and a part of the waiting game is just getting used to their appearance and ultimately forgetting that they are even there.
With that being said, there is a surgical solution to floaters. However, this procedure is very involved and there’s no way getting around the fact that, in the end, it’s eye surgery. Therefore, Optometrists and Ophthalmologists agree that surgery for floaters is often only performed in extreme cases where the procedure is warranted.
When should I tell my eye doctor about my floaters?
Always tell your eye doctor about your floaters! While most floaters are a normal aging process, some floaters make your Optometrist more concerned than others. This is because a smaller percentage of floaters can be caused by holes or tears that form in the retina. As a result, the retina breaks off pieces of pigment that end up in the vitreous. Unfortunately, you as the patient cannot tell which kind of floaters you have, but here are some things you can look for to help your Optometrist decide:
- My floaters recently became worse and I now have a lot more of them
- I have bright flashes of light that I am seeing in addition to my floaters
- My vision has changed significantly – very blurry or even missing vision – in addition to my floaters
- I recently bumped my head or eyes and now have new floaters
- My floaters look red
If you experience these things, your Optometrist wants you to call their office and you may be asked to come in for a dilated eye exam to carefully examine your retinas. Have you ever experienced floaters? Did they go away with time?
Dr. Jenna Zigler