Answers provided by Mitchell Gossman, M.D., ophthalmologist at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, St. Cloud

What are floaters?

Light entering your eye is focused by the lens, then this image passes to the back of the eye where the retina senses the image and delivers it to the brain. In between the lens in your eye and the retina there isn’t air like there is in a camera, this space is filled by a jelly called the “vitreous humor,” or “vitreous” for short. This is normally almost perfectly clear. However, with aging, the vitreous can develop cloudy specks and strings. These cast shadows onto the retina which you see as “floaters.” They are called “floaters” because they do indeed float around and cause specks in your vision that move as your eye moves and can change from day to day. They are most annoying when they hover in the center, obscuring the center of your vision. People have various words to describe the floaters: “sheets,” “spiderwebs,” “specks,” etc.

Is there anything to worry about with floaters?

Probably not so long as there hasn’t been a recent change in them, and if they have been present a long time. However, the vitreous jelly can, as it forms floaters, also pull on the retina and tear it or detach it. If you have floaters you should schedule an eye exam. If they are longstanding floaters there is no rush. If you have suddenly developed floaters you should be seen promptly to check for a retinal tear or detachment.

How can I tell if I have a torn retina or a detachment?

You may not know without it being checked. Normally the torn retina causes bleeding which generates sudden onset of a snowstorm of floaters, so the first symptom might be these new floaters. A torn retina can then lead to a retinal detachment which can cause permanent loss of vision, so you should be seen promptly. If the retina detaches you may notice loss of part of your peripheral vision, as if a “shade” is covering your side vision, and you should be seen urgently. The bottom line is, if they are longstanding floaters, a routine eye exam is needed to check the retina (and the rest of the health of your eyes), and if there are sudden new floaters this is an emergency.

If you have floaters, this is what it might look like when you look into the sky. For some, the floaters are darker. Contributed photo

What can be done for floaters?

This depends on how bothersome they are. If they are mildly bothersome and tolerable, you may choose to live with them. The floaters do not cause harm any more than a dirty lens on your camera damages your camera, it just causes a fuzzy image. If you feel the floaters are interfering with your vision significantly and you’d like to explore treatment options you should schedule a routine eye exam. There is surgery available to eliminate them.

Is there any care required after floater surgery?

The surgery is called “vitrectomy,” and once this is completed, routine followup exams are required. If you have not yet had cataract surgery, the vitrectomy surgery will cause a cataract to develop rapidly and this will require surgery soon after the vitrectomy. Sometimes, if significant cataracts are already present, the cataract surgery may be recommended prior to floater surgery.

Find Out More

Dr. Mitchell Gossman and Dr. Andrea
Joplin, ophthalmologists at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, can diagnose and treat floaters, among other ailments relating to the eyes. Their office is located at 628 Roosevelt Road, Suite 101, in St. Cloud. To make an appointment or to learn more, call 320-774-3789 or email info@eaofcm.com.