What are Floaters?
Do you see semi-transparent wiggly lines or clumps that float around in your field of view? They are called floaters.
Some of us see one, some see a few of them; some see dots, others see lines or clumps. They are more obvious against a bright background, such as the blue sky or a white wall. They move as your eyes move and seem to dart away when you try to look at them directly.
Floaters and Retinal Tears / Retinal Detachment
Floaters are tiny clumps of gel or debris inside the vitreous (a jelly-like fluid) that fills the inside cavity of the eye. Although floaters appear to be in front of the eye, they are actually floating in the vitreous fluid inside the eye. Moving our eyes up and down creates currents within the vitreous that move the floaters away from your direct line of vision. Floaters occur more commonly in the elderly and also in individuals who are short-sighted.
Floaters are only a matter of concern if the degenerated vitreous pulls away from the retina and tears it. This causes a little bleeding in the eye, and may appear as a group of new floaters. Severe retinal tearing may develop into retina detachment, causing vision loss. A retinal detachment occurs when any part of the retina, the eye’s light-sensitive tissue, is lifted or pulled from its normal position at the back wall of the eye.
What is the treatment for Floaters?
Most eye floaters and spots are harmless and merely annoying. Many will fade over time and become less bothersome.
Sometimes people are interested in surgery to remove floaters, but doctors are willing to perform such surgery only in rare instances when vision seriously is hampered. At this time, the only way to “clear” the vitreous and its specks and webs would be to remove the gel-like substance entirely from the eye through a surgical procedure called vitrectomy. The vitreous is replaced with a saline liquid.
There is an eye drop called Vitreolent, a product of Ciba Vision (Novartis) that has been manufactured to treat floaters. Not all doctors believe in prescribing this as its effectiveness is highly variable. It contains an active ingredient known as potassium iodide in very minimal amount. Potassium iodide is an ingredient which has been known to be able to stimulate the tissues of the eye ball by increasing the metabolism rate. As the metabolism rate increases, so does the rate of clearing up unwanted materials out of the eye through these tissues that surrounds the vitreous humor.
The sudden appearance of a significant number of floaters, especially if they are accompanied by flashes of light or other vision disturbances, could indicate a retina tear or a detached retina or other serious problem in the eye. A retinal detachment or tear is an emergency, requiring immediate attention.
If you suddenly see new floaters, visit your eye doctor without delay.