• 26 JUL 17
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    What are eye floaters…and why doesn’t everybody get them?

    What are eye floaters…and why doesn’t everybody get them?

    If you often get floaters, perhaps you’ve heard the advice to ‘just live with it, everybody gets them’. To some degree, that’s true: we’ve all seen eye floaters at one point or another – spots, lines, threads, or dots of various shapes and sizes floating in the eye – if only during eye exams, when our pupils are dilated and there is plenty of background illumination. Optical illusion? No, they’re real all right, drifting around in the eyes, and as some people who get a lot of floaters can attest to, they can have a negative impact on vision.

    Eye floaters: Fast Facts

    What exactly are eye floaters, and where do they come from?

    • Eye floaters are also known as vitreous floaters and ‘flying flies’ because they float within the jelly-like vitreous humour that lies between the optic lens and the retina.
    • The ability (or curse!) to see eye floaters is known as myodesopsia.
    • Some people are born with floaters and they will usually have them for life.
    • As we age, the once-transparent vitreous humour begins to develop imperfections and accumulate build-up in the form of minute particles. Vitreous humour cells can also begin to clump together in the aging process.
    • It is these imperfections, clumps and tiny external objects that cause shadows to be projected onto the retina, where you see them as floaters.
    • Floaters are considered both common and benign. Most people learn to live with floaters, or the floaters eventually go away on their own.

    When floaters become severe

    The Mayo Clinic states that it’s rare for eye floaters to cause serious vision impairment, however, it does happen. If floaters are causing problems in your life, it’s important to book an appointment for an optometrist visit right away, because sudden onset of floaters could be indicative of a serious condition such as a retinal tear or posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).

    While floaters are often easily observed by an optometrist with the use of simple diagnostic tools like an ophthalmoscope or slit lamp, floaters may sometimes be difficult to observe depending on what position they’re in – even if the patient complains of their severity. That’s why a thorough examination by a specialist as opposed to a GP, is necessary.

    Treatment options for floaters

    Unfortunately, there are as of yet no medications or eye drops that will make floaters disappear. Currently, there are two recognized treatment options for severe floaters: surgery and laser techniques. Both are generally used only in the worst cases, as there are considerable risks involved. In the case of surgery, the vitreous humour is surgically removed and replaced with saline solution – but this may not permanently eradicate all floaters, and as well, there is a risk of intraocular bleeding, cataracts, and retinal tears.

    With laser surgery, performed by an ophthalmologist, a laser is used to break up larger floaters so they become less noticeable. Not very frequently used, this surgery has the risk of human error if the laser is not aimed with sufficient accuracy, as well as conditions such as retinal detachment or macular edema.

    While researchers continue to look into the problem of eye floaters and attempt to develop more effective solutions, it’s recommended not to be alarmed if you occasionally see a tiny floater or two; your brain will eventually learn to ignore them. If floaters have become a concern, please visit the Toronto Eye Care clinic for a comprehensive assessment to rule out more serious causes of the floaters you are seeing.

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