Eye floaters, or vitreous opacities, are common but not always benign. They also affect us all differently, from a mere annoyance to visually impressive.
Floaters are the common name for dark specks or spots which move to and fro in your vision. They move with eye movement in your field of vision. They may or may not be associated with clumps or strands of protein floating in your vitreous. These clumps or strands may represent “cob-webs” also seen in your vision.
There are many causes of floaters.
What is the Vitreous?
The vitreous is the substance that fills the vitreous cavity. The vitreous cavity, or posterior chamber, is the largest compartment of the eye and is located between the lens and the retina. The retina is the inside lining of the eye.
Normally, the vitreous is optically clear, color-less and has the consistency of a gel. The vitreous is composed mostly of water, but has about 5% protein.
The vitreous is essential for normal embryologic development of the eye. Once we are born, we are not sure of any true functions of the vitreous although many believe it is essential in oxygenation of the tissues of eye, such as the lens.
The vitreous may absorb energy. For instance when you are engaged in sports, running, or suffer a head injury, the vitreous may be absorbing shock waves. This is unproven.
What are floaters?
The vitreous is never regenerated. While the fluid component does renew (aqueous humor), the proteins do not. With time and normal aging, the proteins can denature or breakdown and the vitreous becomes more water-like.
The thinner, more fluid, vitreous means that the vitreous changes from a thicker gel to a more watery substance. The proteins can more easily coalesce and clump together casting shadows on the retina…more commonly known as floaters.
Floaters can also be a result of retinal disease, blood or inflammation. Floaters from any cause are indistinguishable from one another (i.e. you can’t tell the difference between floaters due to blood vs. inflammation). Only your eye doctor can tell the difference after a thorough dilated examination of your eye.
It is recommended that you alert your eye care professional should you ever experience a sudden increase in floaters. New floaters could be a sign of a potentially blinding condition.
Treatment of Floaters
In general, the best treatment for floaters is to treat the underlying disease. Persistent floaters can be bothersome. Removal via vitrectomy may be the only solution for clearing the floaters from your vision.
Some doctors may offer Nd:Yag laser for the treatment of floaters. There are limitations to this type of treatment and not all retina specialists view this treatment equally.
If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us (877) 245.2020.