The truth about eye floaters
You know those flecks that every so often drift into your line of vision? Those are called floaters.
“Almost everyone has experienced floaters,” says Dr. Harit Bhatt, an ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. Yet most people don’t know what they are, what causes them and most importantly, if they’re cause for concern.
Dr. Bhatt describes our eye as working like a camera. In the front part of the eye, just like in a camera, we have a lens to help focus. In the back part of the eye, where the film is in a camera, is the retina, or the “film” of the eye.
“We have to have something in the middle to give our eye some substance so that’s where floaters come in,” explains Dr. Bhatt. “In the middle, we have a gel-like material called the vitreous gel or jelly. When we are young, this gel is uniform in consistency. As we all age, this vitreous gel begins to degenerate and liquefy. This degeneration is what we notice as floaters. These floaters cast a shadow on the retina (film of the eye), which we perceive as floaters.”
Other causes of floaters that are accompanied by symptoms like flashes of light or a shadow in your vision can indicate something more serious like a retinal tear or detachment, says Bhatt. “We recommend that anyone with floaters get checked by an ophthalmologist,” he says.
To check for any conditions inside the eye, an ophthalmologist performs a dilated exam of the eyes “so we can look all the way to the back part of the eye and see if it’s just the vitreous gel causing problem or if there are any issues like retinal holes, tears or detachment,” says Dr. Bhatt.
If a condition related to floaters is serious, it may require surgery, but Dr. Bhatt says that surgery is determined on a case-by-case basis.
“If it’s just the gel, we don’t recommend surgery,” he says. “In rare cases, such as when a patient’s job may need perfect unobscured vision, or if a patient is truly debilitated by floaters, surgery can be a treatment option,” explains Dr. Bhatt.
Since surgery for floaters when no serious condition exists is not recommended, you’re probably wondering what can be done. Unfortunately, not a whole lot, says Dr. Bhatt.
He explains that over time the “floaters will become less noticeable as the vitreous gel continues to degenerate. This process can take months to years, and most people will always have some floaters.”
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