Eye floaters are small protein structures and cellular residues, contained in the vitreous of the eye. As a result, all kinds of strange shapes are perceived, such as small cobwebs, spheres or wires. It is a fairly common condition, but some people have so much eye floaters, that visibility is seriously hindered.
The vitreous is the gel-like substance which the eye is largely filled with. Eye floaters can have several causes:
- Aging is often accompanied by thickening of the vitreous. Short-sighted people have a greater predisposition for this condition. During this thickening process, eye floaters are formed by the breakdown of collagen. This already occurs in many people at a young age.
- Vitreous detachment. Besides the thickening of the vitreous with increasing age, the amount of vitreous decreases, which usually leads to a vitreous detachment in the elderly. The vitreous is then detached from the retina. This often occurs in or around the sixth decade of life. Eye floaters arise here too, usually visible as large rings in the field of vision.
- Diabetes can lead to blood in the vitreous, which is perceived as eye floaters. Sometimes they arise suddenly.
- Another common cause of eye floaters is eye trauma, for example after cataract extraction.
Inflammation in the eye (uveitis) often causes eye floaters.
People with eye floaters see moving spots, especially when they look at a clear blue sky or a white background. The compactions in the vitreous cast a shadow onto the retina in incoming light. The moving spots that are thus perceived, can be annoying but aren't serious. There is a great variation in the number, size and shape of the floaters.
After a vitreous detachment, the symptoms may increase. The vitreous is then much more agile and contains more compactions due to shrinking. These compactions can sometimes lead to troublesome spots in the center of the sight, which could make reading difficult. The symptoms usually reduce over time, by habituation or because the floaters sag and thus become less disturbing.
During examination of eye floaters, the ophthalmologist administers a pupil dilating agent and then checks the retina with a slit lamp and/or opthalmoscope. Most eye floaters can be seen by the ophthalmologist. However, some are so small that they are not visible. In those cases, the diagnosis of eye floaters can only be determined by the information of the patient.
Distracting eye floaters can be removed by laser treatment. This is a technique, which is only performed by some ophthalmologists around the world. The risks are very low. When over 45 years of age, the success rate is about seventy to ninety-five percent. People younger than 35 can often not be helped with laser.
The vitreous can also be removed by means of a vitrectomy. With the arrival of advanced surgical instruments, the turbid vitreous may be removed under local or general anesthesia. After this operation, the sight is clear again. However, vitrectomy is not without risk. It is therefore only used when there are proven serious symptoms.
Eye floaters are very annoying, but not harmful to the eye, unless they are accompanied by cracks in the retina. Eye floaters may eventually be somewhat smaller. Some floaters can change location or even disappear. People usually get more accustomed to the spots.
- People can usually accomplish a lot by themselves with the relaxation exercises of dr. Bates. By relaxing the eyes and eye muscles, the overstraining of the eye muscles, which is the cause of most eye disorders, diminishes. This relaxation stimulates the discharge of residue materials, so that they are no longer visible. And this is not only good for eye floaters, but also for the overall health of the eyes. One of the most important exercises is ‘palming’, in which one puts the palms of the hands over the eyes. Thus, the eyes are completely isolated from light and there is slight pressure on the eyeholes. The eyes are lying in the soft and warm hollow of the hands for a while, giving them the chance to relax completely.
- Most people discover their eye floaters when they are looking at the sky while lying on their backs. Many eye floaters tend to sink slowly into the vitreous so, when lying on the back, they eventually gather near the macula and are clearly visible. The bright blue background also contributes.