The vitreous humor is a jelly-like substance that fills the back portion of the eye. The vitreous is attached to the retina in many places. The retina is the portion of the eye that receives the image and transfers it to the area of the brain responsible for vision. As we age, the watery elements in the vitreous separate from the fibrous elements. This causes a contraction of the vitreous body and separation from the retina. You can then see these attachments floating in the vitreous humor. Floaters may look like a bug flying around you but are located inside the eye.
What Do Floaters Look Like?
Floaters are described as wispy things floating in the vision usually grey or black. They can look like spots, dots, specks, veils, curtains, bugs, gnats, Chinese letters, and other shapes.
When Do You See Floaters?
The floaters once present in the vitreous are there all the time but not visible all the time. They are the easier to see in bright light and lighter colored backgrounds. The bright light casts a shadow on the retina from the floaters and they are easier to see when the background is white. When you move your eye back and forth, they may float in and out of your vision.
Flashing Lights Associated with Floaters
Many times when people develop floaters, they are associated with flashing lights. The flashing lights are due to the traction of the vitreous or bouncing of the vitreous on the retina.
What Should You Do When You Begin to See Floaters?
When you first begin to see floaters, you should call your eye doctor’s office to make arrangements to be seen. A dilated eye is necessary to make sure that the retina is still attached and that there is no retinal tear. If everything is normal you may still need to be seen in a follow up examination in a few weeks.
Treatment for Floaters
In many cases the floaters either resolve and go away or partially go away. If they become so bothersome that you need to have them removed, there are two treatments available.
A YAG laser can be used to try and break up the floaters. There are only a very few eye surgeons who perform this treatment. It may take several treatments to clear the floaters or in some cases the laser can increase the floaters. The side effects with the laser treatment have been small.
A vitrectomy is a procedure where the vitreous is removed with a cutting and aspiration device. This procedure will remove the floaters but is a more invasive operation. The results are excellent but you need to weigh the risks of the surgery versus the severity of the floaters.
In people who develop floaters, approximately 98 percent or better of cases the retina remains normal. In 1 or 2%, the person may develop a tear in the retina which left untreated will most likely become a retinal detachment. If caught in time, a retinal tear is easy to repair with very little side effects. If the retina becomes detached, then it is a much bigger procedure with higher risks of complications.
Floaters are very common and most people will develop floaters sometime in their lifetime. It is important to get your eyes examined to make sure that your retina has not been torn. If the tear in the retina is caught before a retinal detachment develops, it is easy to repair with an excellent prognosis.