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Floaters

What Are Floaters?

Floaters are spots that appear in the eye, and move around as the eye moves.

There are two types of floaters, long term or short. Long-term floaters are normally symptomatic of the degeneration of vitreous jelly in the eye, which can occur with age. Vitreous gel is found naturally within the eye, and has a ratio of 99 per cent water to 1 per cent clear solids.

As the gel breaks down, the gel degenerates, which can lead to floaters in the vision. Acute floaters on the other hand occur suddenly, often as a result to flashing lights. They could also be indicative of retinal detachment, and so if you experience the sudden onset of floaters, you should seek professional medical treatment immediately to prevent permanent damage occurring.

For the most part, floaters are harmless and do not cause any visual impairment. If you are noticing floaters and are concerned, seek medical advice as soon as possible.

What Are The Causes?

Vitreous gel is a thin, transparent gel that is present in the inside wall of the eye from birth.

Over time, this gel can degenerate as the eye ages, leaving behind a thin layer of jelly over the retina. The small pockets of gel may become larger, which can lead to the gel separating altogether. The retina in our eyes can sometimes be torn, and so the light that shines through the gel revealing the blood within it makes the gel pockets appear as floaters. It’s important to note that retinal tears can lead to retinal detachment if untreated, so you should seek prompt medical attachment if you experience the sudden onset of floaters.

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What Are The Symptoms?

You can normally see floaters within the eye, as they cast a shadow over the retina.

Common symptoms of floaters include seeing small spots or strands, which can sometime appear to look like cobwebs, that move across the eye with each movement. You can also experience cloudy vision, which can appear as a fog or mist and make it difficult for you to see in bright light.

How To Treat Floaters

The most common way to treat floaters is with a procedure known as a Vitrectomy.

During a Vitrectomy, the vitreous gel situated inside the eye next to the retina is surgically removed. Normally carried out under a local anaesthetic and performed by an Ophthalmic Surgeon, this type of procedure has a high success rate that removes floaters and restores uninterrupted vision to patients.

To start with, your surgeon will provide you with a pre-operative consultation to ensure that you are a suitable candidate for the procedure. Ahead of the treatment itself, you will be given anaesthetic drops to numb the eye and help keep you still during the procedure. If you feel uncomfortable or anxious, your surgeon may offer sedation to help you feel more at ease and keep you from moving.

During the procedure, your surgeon will cleanse the skin around your eye and put in place a sterile protective cover. You of course won’t be able to see anything, but if you are awake for your procedure, your surgeon will explain to you what is happening so that you feel completely at ease. The surgeon will make three small incisions in your sclera, the white part of your eye, through which instruments will be passed in order to reach the vitreous gel.

shutterstock_380081665A saline drip will be inserted, which will replace the fluid in the eye during surgery and stop decompression. A fibre-optic light will then be inserted to allow the surgeon to see, before the operating instrument is inserted and the vitreous gel removal gets underway. The gel that is removed is replaced by the saline solution, which the eye will secrete out naturally in the weeks following the procedure.

As the operation is usually suture-less, the incisions will heal naturally so you don’t have to come back for any follow-up appointments. All in all, the procedure should take around 45 minutes.

In some cases, it may be possible to receive laser treatment for floaters. In this process, a laser light is used to break up floaters while they are still in the eye, or to reposition them so that they are on the outer edge of your field of vision and therefore unobtrusive. While this may seem like the easier form of treatment, it is relatively new, and therefore research is still ongoing as to it’s effectiveness and safety. It is also not available on the NHS, so anyone wishing to undergo this treatment would have to do so privately.

A Vitrectomy is therefore more common in the UK, and a more widely used and accepted method of treating floaters.

Aftercare And Complications

You will not be able to drive home following your Vitrectomy procedure, so you should make plans to have someone collect you once you’ve been discharged.

It can take anywhere between four to six weeks for your vision to become fully clear after treatment, during which time your eyes may be swollen and sore. Your surgeon will likely provide you with prescription eye drops that will prevent the onset of infection and reduce inflammation. During the recovery period, you may need to keep your head help up for 50 minutes of every hour for the first few weeks, as this will ensure the saline solution remains against the treated part of your eye.

You may experience a degree of pain and discomfort during your recovery, but should you experience any bleeding, decrease in vision, cataracts or cloudy vision, glaucoma or signs of infection, you should contact your surgeon immediately to have these complications treated.

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