Eye floaters are common and are typically not a cause for alarm. They appear when the eye’s gel-like vitreous breaks up within the inner back portion of the eyes. The vitreous is gel-like in consistency at birth and throughout childhood, but it starts thinning out and developing a watery center as you age. Not all particles are dissolved completely, resulting in the occasional floater, which can take on various shapes and sizes.
Floaters are most noticeable when you are looking at a computer screen with a light-colored or white background or looking up at a clear sky. What you’re seeing are not the actual bits of the vitreous. Rather, you’re looking at the shadows of eye floaters cast on the retina as light passes through your eyes. Try to focus on them and they will appear to be drifting. This is because floaters move when the vitreous gel in your eyes moves.
Vitreous gel tugging on the retina can cause retinal tearing, allowing the vitreous to enter through the opening and push the retina farther away. This ultimately leads to retinal detachment, a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. According to a study published in the journal Ophthalmology, 39.7% of those who experience the sudden onset of eye floaters with or without light flashes have posterior vitreous detachment while 8.9% have torn retinas.
Other bodies of research have also shown that as many as 50% of people with tears in their retinas will eventually develop retinal detachment, which could give rise to significant loss of vision.
Other Conditions Related to Eye Floaters
A visit to an eye doctor in Lorton, VA, is the best way to determine what is causing you to experience floaters. When posterior vitreous detachment occurs alongside some bleeding inside the eye, it means traction may have torn a retinal blood vessel. Vitreous hemorrhage, unfortunately, increases the likelihood of retinal tears or detachments, while traction on the retina during posterior vitreous detachment can lead to conditions like macular puckers or holes.
Other conditions that increase the risk of vitreous detachments include:
Inflammation in the eye’s interior
YAG laser eye surgery
Diabetes (diabetic vitreopathy)
When They’re Not Eye Floaters
The visual aura that accompanies migraines is often mistaken for floaters. This aura can resemble what you see when looking into a kaleidoscope, and may even move. Usually lasting a few minutes, a visual aura may affect vision in one or both eyes and typically goes away on its own.
Treating Eye Floaters
In many instances, eye floaters are harmless though annoying, fading over time and requiring no treatment. Just move your eye around when you see one to get it out of your line of vision. This works because moving your eyes shifts fluid inside them. However, large and persistent floaters can be troublesome to people.
Previously, the only way to get rid of eye floaters was through vitrectomy, an invasive surgical procedure in which a portion of or all of the vitreous is removed from the eye. To replace the removed vitreous, a clear, sterile fluid is used.
However, removing the vitreous doesn’t completely take away risks of retinal detachment. Worse, the procedure can increase your chances of developing serious eye infections or, in rare cases, even getting new floaters. With vitrectomy risks outweighing the procedure’s benefits in many cases, most eye surgeons don’t recommend it as treatment for eye floaters.
As an alternative to vitrectomy, laser vitreolysis was developed. An in-office procedure, it is considered safer and works by focusing on large floaters. The procedure breaks apart larger floaters, making them disappear or appear less bothersome.
To determine if you are a good candidate for laser vitreolysis, your Lorton, VA, optometrist will take into consideration several factors, including age, onset speed, where your eye floaters are located and what they look like. Typically, the farther away sizable floaters are from the retina, the better.
Investing in Eye Health With Regular Eye Exams
Eye floaters are a typical occurrence as people age so they are most prevalent in individuals aged 50 years old and up. You should schedule an appointment with your eye doctor if you notice a sudden uptick in eye floaters. Even if you don’t have eye floaters or other obvious eye problems, you should still have your eyes checked every two years by an optometrist. Doing so allows for early detection and prompt treatment of underlying eye conditions.
Anyone of any age can benefit from having regular eye exams. How often you should have your eyes checked depends on certain factors like your age and your eyes’ current condition. Children should get their eyes first checked at six months of age, followed by an eye exam at three years old and another right before they start school. From there, they can continue with eye checks every two years until they are 18 years old, if they don’t have any eye-related issues. Adults between the ages of 18 and 60 should schedule eye exams every two years, with annual eye exams recommended for patients over the age of 60.
Exact tests to be done during an eye exam will depend on what your optometrist in Newington, VA, needs to better understand your eyes’ current condition, but some of the tests you can expect include:
Visual Acuity Tests – To measure vision sharpness
Ocular Motility Test – To determine how accurately your eyes can focus on two separate targets and how well your eyes can follow moving objects and/or quickly move between targets
Cover Test – To see how well your eyes work together
Stereopsis Test – To measure depth perception
- Color Blindness Test – To detect color vision deficiencies
- Retinoscopy – To approximate eyeglass prescription
In the same way that regular maintenance can help keep machines in top shape, allowing them to perform better and longer, regular eye exams help ensure your eyes are always in their best condition. It’s not always easy caring for your eyesight, but with the right professionals by your side, you’re sure to get the eye care you want and need.