Floaters are tiny specks of substance that appear in the normally clear vitreous humor of the eye. The vitreous is the gel that fills the cavity of the eye between the lens and the retina. As we age, the gel in our eyes also ages and goes through a process called syneresis and causes collagen fibers and strands to form. This is what we see as "floaters." These specks move around and cause a shadow to appear on the retina and in the patient's line of sight.
Floaters are common as we age, and are generally not considered a medical problem. Sufferers eventually learn to ignore the floating threads or spots, and they may eventually settle at the bottom of the eye, out of the field of vision.
At birth, the vitreous is attached to the retina. Over time, the gel goes through syneresis and shrinks as we age. As the gel shrinks, it will eventually detach from the retina. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment and usually occurs from age 50 and up. 75% of adults over the age of 65 have experienced a posterior vitreous detachment. It is a normal aging process of our eye.
Symptoms include flashes of light, a sudden increase of floaters and/or a circular or semi-circular floater in your central vision called a Weiss's Ring.
Unfortunately, there is currently no FDA approved method to safely and effectively remove and treat floaters. Floaters typically are less noticeable over time as the brain learns to ignore them.
Non-FDA approved procedures have been used to remove floaters. YAG-laser has been approved from some surgeons to treat floaters. The laser is said to vaporize the floater. However, this treatment is controversial because studies have not proved this to be an effective way to treat floaters. Also, the YAG-laser itself may pose a significant risk to the eye and cause new floaters to appear. Another method said to treat floaters is a procedure called vitrectomy where the vitreous humor is removed from the eye and replaced by either water, gas or silicone oil. But this procedure is usually reserved for serious eye injuries. Floaters are classified as a harmless annoyance.
Types of Treatment for Floaters
Floater are often treated with laser treatment. Often more than 100 pinpoint zaps are required to vaporise a floater into a less dense consistence which is less noticeable. The procedure may take up to 30 minutes. It is currently controversial; results are reportedly mixed and it is possible to leave a patient worse off than before the treatment.
Alternatively, Vitrectomy is used to treat the floaters. This involves removing most or all of the patient's eyeball fluid. Sutureless vitrectomy may also be performed in certain circumstances. Laser is looked upon as a more favorable and less risky procedure than vitrectomy.
Complications and Risks
Theoretically there is the possibility of more serious complications such as a detached retina as a result of laser surgery well as vitrectomy for the treatment of floaters. Another problem may be an increase of pressure within the eye, a possible cause of glaucoma. The risks outweigh the benefits tremendously, thus most surgeons are not comfortable using either method just to treat the symptoms of harmless floaters.
For most people who suffer with any type of floater the advice from doctors is to live with it. Often the floater will settle at the bottom of the eye, out of the line of sight. Alternatively, patients learn to ignore the floaters and they eventually are no longer noticeable.
However, if there are ever a series of flashes in a person's vision, or there is a sudden appearance of many small floaters moving across the field of vision, they should be referred to an eye doctor as soon as possible. These may the first signs of a detached retina or of blood cells leaking into the normally clear vitreous humor.
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