It’s a fly! No, it’s a spider! No, it’s a…. vitreous floater. Though you may be relieved to realize you’ve not walked into a swarm of midges after all, for some, the diagnosis of vitreous floaters isn’t particularly welcome either. Seen as little squiggles, lines, cobwebs, or specks that drift across your vision, floaters are both annoyingly common and just plain annoying.
Around three-quarters of all adults experience eye floaters. Historically, floaters have just been something to put up with and ignore. However, in more recent years, researchers have been investigating certain interventions that can help to treat them.
Before You Go Any Further!
You’re about to read that most vitreous floaters are a normal age-related phenomenon in the eye. However, if you have new floaters:
- That look like a sudden shower or cloud of little black specks in your vision
- That are accompanied by seeing flashing lights
- And also have any area of your vision that appears to be missing, blacked- or grayed-out
- And are short-sighted
- And have diabetes
- That appeared after some sort of physical trauma to your face or head
… then save this article for later and call your eye doctor now. While the majority of vitreous floaters are harmless, some can be the first sign of a serious eye condition, such as a retinal detachment or a retinal bleed. These situations need to be addressed swiftly for the best chances of preserving your vision.
With That Being Said…What are Eye Floaters?
So, vitreous floaters are typically a normal age-related phenomenon in the eye. The vitreous is a gel that fills up the space in the back area of the eyeball. As we get older, the vitreous slowly liquefies, losing its organized gel structure. This affects the transparent nature of the vitreous, and as bundles of collagen fibrils drift about the pockets of liquid within the vitreous, we may see them as eye floaters.
The vitreous gel is anchored to certain points on the retina, which lines the back of the inside of the eyeball. As the vitreous shrinks and liquefies, it can tug on these adhesion points. This whole process is known as a posterior vitreous detachment. As the vitreous pulls away from the retina, it can bring a little tuft of retinal tissue with it, which we can also then end up seeing as an eye floater. A special type of eye floater arises from the vitreous-retinal adhesion around the optic nerve. As the point where the optic nerve enters the eyeball is circular, this floater often looks vaguely round-ish, or at least like a C-shape. These specific floaters are known as Weis rings and tend to hover around the optic nerve within the eye.
Although floaters don’t just “go away”, you may become less aware of them with time or in different situations. Due to gravity, they can settle at the bottom of the eyeball, out of view. However, as soon as you move your eye, like the wind stirring up dust on the ground, the floaters are whipped into motion. You may also find your floaters more noticeable when staring at a light or bright background, such as the page of a book, a computer screen, or a clear blue sky.
For most people, eye floaters are a mild bother and an occasional inconvenience. However, as some floaters can be large, if they float across the wrong place at the wrong time, you may find yourself unable to see clearly out of the one eye until the floater has gone on its merry way. Others may not quite be in your central vision, but still be large enough to irritate you with a fuzzy patch in the corner of your eye. Some studies have found that eye floaters may negatively impact a person’s quality of life.
What Can Be Done to Make Eye Floaters “Go Away”?
At this point in time, treating garden-variety floaters is not routine practice. The main reasoning for this is because age-related vitreous floaters are benign and harmless, and the treatment options for getting rid of them tend to offer more risk than they do benefits. However, if you absolutely cannot read the rest of this article because a gigantic floater has drifted right across your macula, what are your options?
A laser treatment known as nd:YAG laser vitreolysis may be performed. This procedure essentially zaps and vaporizes the floater so that it is visible and annoying no more. However, although there are some indications that laser vitreolysis could be a viable option for some floaters, it also carries some risks, such as causing laser-induced cataracts or retinal detachments.
Another somewhat more dramatic treatment is removing the entire vitreous contents through a surgical procedure known as vitrectomy. A vitrectomy is the most definitive way of getting rid of your eye floaters. During this procedure, the vitreous gel is removed and replaced with another biocompatible solution to occupy the vitreous space in the eyeball. Vitrectomies are also not without risks, which may include retinal bleeding or tears.
A New Direction for Eye Floater Treatment: Nutrition
Most recently, researchers published the results from a study investigating the use of nutritional supplementation on alleviating visual issues caused by eye floaters. Not only did the experimental supplements provide a significant improvement in subjective floater-related visual discomfort, but there was also a significant decrease in vitreous opacities.
So, what was the magical formulation? The supplement used in the study contained 125mg L-lysine, 40mg vitamin C, 26.3mg Vitis vinifera extract, 5mg zinc, and 100mg Citrus aurantium. If you know anything about these particular micronutrients, you may have realized the supplement is a potent concoction of antioxidants and antiglycation agents. The theory underpinning the effectiveness of the supplement is that the degeneration of the vitreous is due to oxidative stress and accumulation of undesirable products from a biochemical process called glycation. Reducing oxidation and glycation within the vitreous therefore conceivably can help to avoid these processes and the resultant floaters.
At the conclusion of the study, two-thirds of people receiving the micronutrient supplement reported an improvement in their visual discomfort. They even reported an improvement to their daily life from less floater interference.
At this point in time, further studies are needed to determine whether nutritional supplementation is really the way to go for treating those pesky floaters. In the meantime, if you find yourself constantly swatting imaginary flies, speak to your eye doctor about whether another method of treating eye floaters might be appropriate for you.
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