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