Facts About Floaters

It is a fact of life that the older we get the more physical discomfort and inconvenience we have to learn to “just live with”.  Our body just doesn’t perform the way it used to.  As a doctor treating aging patients, it is a great joy when something comes along that allows us to treat something that we formerly had to tell patients to “just live with”.  The latest case of this phenomenon involves a new treatment for vitreous floaters in the eye.

The vitreous humor is the clear, jelly-like substance in the main chamber of the eye, located between the lens and the retina.  At a young age, the vitreous is perfectly transparent.  Over time as the eye ages, this vitreous humor can degenerate, losing its form and liquefying.  Without the stable vitreous humor, the collagen fibers collapse and bind together to form knots and clumps.  It is these fibers, which cast shadows on the retina and appear as spots, strings, or cobwebs that are commonly referred to as ‘floaters’.

Nearly everyone has experienced or will experience ‘floaters’.   For most people, this is a short lived inconvenience, but for some it can become a major irritation or even disabling condition.   Until recently, the only treatment for floaters was vitrectomy, the surgical removal of the vitreous gel.  This surgery carried a number of risks including cataract development, bleeding and retinal detachment.  Given the risk/benefit ratio, most doctors recommended no treatment in all but the most severe cases.

The latest development is a new laser that was specifically designed to breakup or vaporize the clumps of collagen that cause floaters.  This treatment has an excellent safety profile, is typically painless and is done in the office setting.   Patients generally experience little to no disruption of their normal routine after the procedure.   Laser Floater Treatment significantly shifts the risk/benefit ratio to allow treatment of the majority of floaters that interfere with visual function.  It is exciting to tell patients that if floaters interfere with their visual function, they no longer have to “just learn to live with” them.

Author:  Michael Keverline, MD


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