Floaters in the eye – should I be wor­ried?

Jamaica Gleaner - - WORLD SIGHT DAY -

FLOATERS ARE lit­tle black things that move in the vi­sion that can take many forms – spots, lines, cob­web or lacy pat­terns. They move as the eyes move be­cause they are sus­pended in a gel (vit­re­ous hu­mour at the back of the eye).

Floaters typ­i­cally oc­cur in peo­ple 60 years or older. This is be­cause the vit­re­ous is like a gel, con­sist­ing of col­la­gen in young peo­ple. As we age, the col­la­gen in the eye breaks down (just like the col­la­gen in the skin) and the gel un­der­goes ‘liq­ue­fac­tion’, be­com­ing liq­ue­fied. There­fore, as your eyes move, the liq­ue­fied vit­re­ous and floaters move around with the move­ment.

Floaters can be due to con­den­sa­tion of vit­re­ous, pig­ment, blood (red blood cells) and in­flam­ma­tion (white blood cells). Floaters are WARN­ING SIGNS. If you de­velop new floaters it may be due to a sim­ple age­ing change (liq­ue­fac­tion), re­sult­ing in the vit­re­ous pulling off from the retina, a pos­te­rior vit­re­ous

De­tach­ment, a nor­mal process usu­ally oc­cur­ring af­ter 60 years old. How­ever, it can oc­cur in younger pa­tients such as my­opes (near­sight­ed­ness), post YAG laser treat­ment af­ter cataract surgery or pre­vi­ous eye in­jury.

Floaters can be due to bleed­ing into the vit­re­ous, which can oc­cur in di­a­bet­ics and hy­per­ten­sive pa­tients who are not tak­ing their med­i­ca­tions con­sis­tently, or in sickle cell pa­tients. Floaters can sug­gest that the retina is torn. A reti­nal tear is very se­ri­ous and can present with bleed­ing (floaters). Pa­tients may also have flash­ing lights (pho­top­sia) due to pulling

on the retina. Reti­nal tears can lead to reti­nal de­tach­ments which, if not treated ur­gently, will re­sult in per­ma­nent vis­ual loss.

If you ex­pe­ri­ence floaters and/or flash­ing lights, you should visit your oph­thal­mol­o­gist for a di­lated eye ex­am­i­na­tion. This is to rule out any se­ri­ous prob­lems with the retina that could re­sult in loss of vi­sion. This ex­am­i­na­tion is dif­fer­ent from a glasses test. It re­quires special di­lat­ing drops that are used to make the pupil of the eye big­ger (this can take 40 min­utes for the drops to work) so that the oph­thal­mol­o­gist can check for reti­nal prob­lems. If the retina is nor­mal, the floaters may per­sist but be­come smaller and less ob­vi­ous with time. The main point to re­mem­ber is that floaters are a warn­ing sign of reti­nal prob­lems which can af­fect your vi­sion. If you have them, you must see your oph­thal­mol­o­gist for a di­lated eye ex­am­i­na­tion.

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