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Seeing Specks, Spots, Dots, Lines? Visual Annoyances Called "Eye Floaters"

Updated on January 08, 2017
DzyMsLizzy profile image

While not a medical professional, Liz has always been interested in medicine. She reads a lot, and understands more than many lay people.

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No, You're Not Going Crazy

Sounds like a personal problem, doesn't it?

Well, actually, it is a very personal problem. The saying goes, "Write about what you know." Sadly, I have come to know this topic rather well, as I've been plagued since 2007 by these so-called floaters.

You may have experienced them at some time--those pesky little dots either right in your line of vision or just off the side. The first few times it happens, you may mistakenly think a bug has flown near your face, or that there is a smudge on your computer screen or your glasses.

People will look at you strangely as you try to dodge or swat the flying insect or wipe your screen repeatedly. Finally, you come to realize, "This stupid bug or smudge is inside my eye!!"

When you are younger, floaters may appear only rarely, and vanish on their own. As the eyes age, however, they are likely to become more frequent. Depending on their location within the eye, they can be very annoying indeed, interfering with what you are trying to see.

Should I ever wish to apply to a ghost-hunting team, I know my own ghost-hunting abilities have now been compromised--I would not be able to trust whether or not I had glimpsed a ghost out of the corner of my eye, or it it was one of my blasted floaters!

Consult Your Optometrist or Ophthalmologist

If you are experiencing floaters, it is very important to consult your optometrist or ophthalmologist to rule out serious medical conditions.

Why Are They Called Floaters?

What are floaters, anyway? Reduced to simplest terms, floaters are tiny bits of cellular debris that in the eye, have nowhere to go. The same sort of debris is regularly shed from our skin, but being on the exterior of the body, it falls away instead of being trapped.

They can come and go at various times over a period of years. Some can be fairly noticeable, others may go virtually unnoticed. Those that disappear have probably been re-absorbed by the body. For the most part, they are only annoying and not cause for concern.

Floaters can take the form of dots, squiggles, circles, lines, or blobs. They appear to move about as you move your eye(s) and can be very distracting. The first one I noticed was a series of tiny dots in a circle, resembling the hour points on a clock face.

They are often off to one side of the vision, seen as if there is something in your peripheral vision. Over time, they can shift within the eye, but at any given time, are not actually moving. This easy test will tell you that is so. Pay attention to where you see your floater, then move your eye and attempt to look directly at it. Do not move your head--only your eye. You will most likely notice that the floater stays in the same relative position, and it is not possible to look directly at it. It will always just tease the edge of your vision.

Sometimes, however, a floater can be in your direct line of sight, making it very hard to read or focus on a task. You can do the same test described above, and most likely with the same results. The ones I had were pretty much in my direct line of sight, but were most noticeable if I was looking at a light-colored wall, or my computer screen. Looking at a dark surface, they blended in, and I did not see them.

Unfortunately, floaters are considered to be part of the aging process of the eyes, and most doctors claim nothing can be done about them, and advise their patients to simply, "learn to live with it."

An Eye Exam Can Diagnose the Problem

It is important to see an eye doctor if you have this problem, to rule out serious conditions
It is important to see an eye doctor if you have this problem, to rule out serious conditions | Source

What Causes Floaters?

  • Aging of the eyes seems to be the main cause, although others have been suggested.
  • People with connective tissue disorders are more prone to floaters than the population at large.
  • There is also a gender bias, with women being more subject to this problem than men.
  • Injury to the eye is the remaining cause.

Are Floaters Harmful?

According to all the references I've checked, the answer to this question is a qualified "no."

I say "qualified" because certain other symptoms, if also present, can indicate a more serious problem such as a tear in the retina. That's the back wall of the eye which gathers the light focused by the lens of the eye and transmits it to the optic nerve, allowing us to see.

Therefore, the first step when you notice any floaters for the first time is to see an eye doctor (opthamologist) to rule out any more serious conditions.

Anatomy of the Eye

Source

Can Floaters Be Treated or Cured?

In a word, no. Usually not.

There is still a great debate raging in the medical community over whether or not laser treatment is useful or poses too great a risk.

There are, according to one source, probably only two doctors in the U.S. who have demonstrated consistent success using lasers to "zap" the offending spots. At that rate, their results are probably considered by mainstream medicine as too small to be a statistically significant sample.

The other treatment described sounds very radical to me. I would not seek this option myself unless the floaters were directly in my line of vision and in such number or size that I was rendered virtually sightless. It is called a "vitrectomy," and involves removal of all the gelatinous fluid within the eyeball. The gel is then replaced with either a silicone oil or gas to restore normal pressure within the eye.

The jury is still out concerning treatment or abatement

There are also a couple of sites referring to Chinese herbal remedies and diet modifications, although the Western medical information sites, as is typical, disparage anything to do with what they term "alternative medicine."

In my own case, I've not the budget for travel or expensive treatments, and my doctor was one of those who examined my eyes and said, "no retinal damage--sorry--you just have to learn to live with it."

I came across one website whose author claimed to have found various natural treatments for the condition, none of which involved "alternative" medicine.

The upshot of the matter is that "the jury is still out." I do wish the researchers would push harder for a remedy for this very annoying condition.

© 2010 Liz Elias

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  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 14 months ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Audrey--

    Oooo...a torn retina sounds excruciatingly painful! If there is an upside to floaters, it is that they are merely annoying; not painful. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope your hubby and his brother were able to get their problem repaired!

  • brakel2 profile image

    Audrey Selig 14 months ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

    Hi Liz - Thanks for the info on the eye issues. i have a floater, and my husband had a torn retina, as did his brother. Excuse my shift key acting up on my computer. Time for a new keyboard. Anyway, this hub will help folks, as these weird eye things can scare a person. You write very informative articles. Thanks and sharing. Blessings, Audrey

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ antony--

    I sympathize, and know the feeling. In this day and age of technological miracles and breakthroughs, I truly do not understand why these are categorized as "untreatable." It would seem that they could easily be laser-zapped or some such thing...even suctioned out by syringe...(with the patient knocked out, of course!)

    Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience.

  • antony 4 years ago

    I have chronic eye floaters and am so depressed at the moment and all the ophthalmologist says is that my retina is fine and I have to learn to accept them but each morning I wake I see more new ones and they seem to get bigger also when looking at a light source e.g watching the t.v or looking at street lights I get glare!!!god please help me

  • Gemini Fox profile image

    Gemini Fox 4 years ago

    Oh, there they are! Never thought to look below the 'Comments' so didn't see them. Thank you!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Gemini Fox--

    Yes, indeed--maddening in the extreme!

    I believe the alternative remedies discussed are in the diet and yoga links, below left, under 'further information.'

    Thanks very much for stopping by and adding your comment.

  • Gemini Fox profile image

    Gemini Fox 4 years ago

    Don't they drive you nuts?! Sooooo frustrating!

    You mentioned that there are a couple of sites regarding Chinese herbal rememdies and diet modifications but I don't see them listed. Do you still have them?

    Thank you!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, CRG--

    Thanks much for stopping by and adding your comment. These pesky things are sure to be a bit different in each individual case. Sometimes I find them in my line of sight, and that is when they are most troublesome; otherwise, they reside in the fringes, and trying to shift focus to look at them results in them moving right along with the direction I'm trying to look so that they stay on the periphery.

    No matter, what, I find it irritating that in this day of ultra-high-tech fixes involving lasers and such, that they claim not to be able to fix the problem!

  • CRG 5 years ago

    I agree with everything you've written except for the inability to look directly at the floaters. If I shift my gaze slowly to one side and then quickly back to center the floaters cross my line of sight and slowly float back to where they normally reside allowing me to view them quite clearly.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, crazybeanrider!

    Thanks for stopping by. I know what you mean! I'm not quite OCD, but it does drive me a bit batty at times, especially when reading or typing against a white background.

    I agree with you--it would seem in the face of all the high-tech things they can do to repair the body these days, it seems as if it should be a simple matter to simply numb the eye, insert a needle, and suck the sucker out! OR... perfect the lasering technique!

  • crazybeanrider profile image

    Boo McCourt 6 years ago from Washington MI

    Well that is awful that doctor's cannot fix these floaters. They can repair a heart, put in a new kidney, do brain surgery even, and they can't pick a floater out of your eye? That would annoy me beyond words. I am OCD, I can't imagine how crazy I would go. Great article, I had never heard of floater in the eye before.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ Micky Dee--

    Yes, they can happen when we are young, and I believe I may have had a couple of episodes when I was much younger, but they did go away on their own. Thanks for your comment!

    @GusTheRedneck--

    Thank you for sharing that very important bit of additional information! The eyes are not only "the window to the soul," as poets have claimed; they can also be a window into our general health.

  • GusTheRedneck profile image

    Gustave Kilthau 6 years ago from USA

    Hi Diz - Good article here ! Floaters can really be a distraction all right. What people need to know aboput "seeing things" internal to the eye is that, if you see bright (white) flashes, head for the ER. They are one of the signs that you may be having a stroke.

    Gus :-)~

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