I developed eye floaters in my right eye when I was 25 years old and a student in veterinary school. I was having outpatient surgery (totally unrelated to my eyes) and lying on a hospital cot staring up at a white tiled textured ceiling while waiting for the anesthesiologist to come in when I noticed them. I thought I was going crazy. For those of you who don’t know what floaters are or who are lucky enough not to have them, I’ll explain. The Mayo Clinic gives the following definition of eye floaters:
Eye floaters are spots in your vision. They may look to you like black or gray specks, strings or cobwebs that drift about when you move your eyes and appear to dart away when you try to look at them directly.
My floaters were small black dots with stringy attachments. My ophthalmologist said they are usually nothing to worry about and are usually age-related. I was a little on the young side when I developed mine at age 25 as usually they don’t appear until later in life (age 50 and over).
A few weeks ago on a Sunday, I was in heavy housework mode and cleaning my floors (which is a never-ending job especially when you have cats). So I was doing a lot of bending over that day sweeping, vacuuming, swiffering, and mopping. At one point, when I raised from a stooped over position, I all of a sudden had a huge floater appear in my right visual field. This thing was massive and unlike my other floaters which moved and darted around at great speed with eye movement, this thing moved very slow and I could get it to stop in the center of my visual field where I could focus on it. It was very detailed and V-shaped with black knobs along the V. Under the V were little cobweb like designs. Around this large floater were smaller floaters which appeared as squiggly lines. I could also at times see small dots scattered around the floater. It looked something like this.
Looking at a computer screen or trying to read was frustrating because I saw gray spots. This all occurred late afternoon on a Sunday and my husband’s parents were coming over for dinner in just a few short hours. I debated on whether or not I should cancel our dinner and head to the Emergency room since this floater was so large and seemed to just all of a sudden appear out of nowhere. I asked my husband (who is a nurse) if he thought I should go and he said he didn’t know if there would be an ophthalmologist on call. I wondered the same thing and wasn’t thrilled about going to sit in a hospital ER waiting room for hours only to be told to see my ophthalmologist on Monday. My husband and I both had early morning appointments with our doctor the following morning for our annual physicals. I googled floaters and decided that I was probably okay to wait til morning to get this problem checked out since I wasn’t seeing flashes of light and didn’t have any deficits in my peripheral vision.
Still I was a little on edge. My sister had been diagnosed with ocular cancer last year. Her type cancer, which is usually asymptomatic, caused her to have disturbances in her color vision (and later some blurriness).
The following morning, the floater seemed to be smaller but I had more little floaters. They were more obvious and bothersome in bright light. I was not bothered by them in dim light. My physician seemed concerned but told me he was perhaps a little sensitive where eyes were concerned that particular day. Turns out he had received an emergency call the night before from another patient who was having visual problems. He had sent that patient to the ER as he thought the man was possibly having a stroke or possible TIAs. That patient ended up having a pretty serious retinal tear. My doctor didn’t like the “cobweb designs” I was seeing hanging off my floater and wanted me to go be seen that day by my ophthalmologist (he stepped out and had his scheduler call my ophthalmologist to see about getting me seen that day). The eye clinic told me to come on in.
The ophthalmologist explained a little more about floaters. She said they are usually harmless but it’s always good practice to be seen quickly if you develop a sudden change in your floaters or see an increase in them (or develop really large ones like I did). She said if you have a history of floaters and see flashes of light or notice problems with your peripheral (side) vision, then you should get to your ophthalmologist immediately as it can be a sign of more serious problems. She explained that floaters are usually due to a change in the vitreous (the jelly like substance in your eye between the retina and the lens that gives the eyeball its shape). As we age, the vitreous becomes more liquefied and protein strands develop which cast shadows on the retina. I asked her if floaters could ever get so bad that surgery is required to remove them and she said very, very rarely. The surgery is apparently not without serious risks to the eye and vision so unless they are just really interfering with vision in a bad way, they prefer to leave them alone.
She could see the large floater I had seen but suspected since it appeared smaller to me than it had the day before, that it had probably broken up some. She reported that I had a small hemorrhagic spot on the edge of my optic disc that she would need to re-ck in two weeks to see what it was doing (hopefully going away). She said sometimes floaters will stick and sag before dropping off and cause irritation and the hemorrhagic spot was more than likely where my floater had been “stuck.”
Two weeks later, I went back for a re-ck. The hemorrhagic spot was gone. The floaters were still there but smaller. The ophthalmologist told me what I had already read, that the floaters would get better with time. I asked her what “getting better” meant…. do they just break up smaller where they’re not as noticeable or will I just get used to them? She said actually it was a little of both. She said while floaters won’t ever disappear or go away, they can break down and they tend to settle over time so they’re not as noticeable. Also, she said your brain seems to be very good at adapting to them over time where they just don’t bother you as much. I was glad to hear that. Sometimes my floaters make me jump when they come darting from the side. They drive me crazy and sometimes I think a fly is buzzing around my head.
Do you have floaters? How bothersome are they to you?