Visual Floaters (Vitreous Floaters)

Visual Floaters (Vitreous Floaters)

Dr. Kennedy
Visual floaters (technically known as vitreous floaters) are those small dark and semi-transparent shapes that appear in the visual fields of some people. They are clumps of a complex clear gelatinous protein material. These spots may look like dots, squiggles, or strands. Although they can appear at any age, people who are at greatest risk are those over 50, those who have experienced a blow to the head and especially the eye, those who have had eye surgery, and possibly those with relatives who have floaters. Most eye doctors believe the causation is “multifactoral.”

The vitreous body is a clear spherical gel-like material which fills the back of the eye and serves to hold its shape. Until one is around 50-60 years of age the retina is attached to the vitreous body by a gelatinous protein material present from embryonic development. Sometime around ages 50-60 the vitreous and the retina separate. This gelatinous material can then separate from both vitreous and retina and float around in the back of the eye in front of the retina. These strands of material are semitransparent and when light passes through them they stop enough light to create shadow-like images on the retina. These images are called visual or vitreous floaters. Depending on the quantity, size, and position floaters can range from hardly noticed to severe impairment of vision.

Mainstream ophthalmology does not recognize a treatment for floaters and when a patient complains about them he or she receives an eye examination and if no other problems are found the patient is told to go home and not to worry because there is nothing to do about floaters anyway. If you go on the Internet you will read that some supplements can help and even that Chinese medicine has an answer. All of this is false and designed to sell you something. In order to be effective, floaters must be removed from the eye.

One possible, although radical, solution is to remove the vitreous body and replace it with saline. This kind of surgery is laden with possible dire complications, but it is capable of removing floaters. Vitrectomy, as it is called, is almost never done for floaters, but rather as a secondary procedure allowing the surgeon access to the retina where surgery is needed.

The other method of removing floaters is with the YAG laser. However, there are only three doctors in the U.S. who practice this specialty – one in Virginia, one in Florida and one in California. This procedure will someday be part of mainstream ophthalmology, but for now, if a person wants to take the YAG laser treatment, he or she must step outside the mainstream and go against the advice of his or her eye doctor who will be saying “there is no treatment.”

Properly applied the Yag laser literally vaporizes floaters to a gas form and the gas is then reabsorbed. The procedure requires between 15 and 45 minutes for each eye. However, floaters near the retina are avoided for fear of damaging the retina and often this is where the main problem is located.

No medical procedure is without risks and one should carefully consider the possible risks and possible benefits of any procedure, including this one. Doctors who do the Yag laser procedure believe it is much safer than vitrectomy. However, excessive use of the Yag laser can damage the retina, particularly the fovea centralis which mediates central vision. Thus ability to read the printed word can be seriously compromised.

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