Eye Floaters

Eye floaters are a common source of enquiry at our London practice. Floaters are caused by changes in the vitreous gel, a jelly-like substance that fills most of the eyeball. Eye floaters tend to form gradually throughout one's lifetime, but can sometimes appear suddenly.

If eye floaters suddenly appear, it is very important that an ophthalmic surgeon examines your eyes as soon as possible. This is because eye floaters can be associated with the formation of a hole in the retina (the light-sensitive membrane at the back of the eye). If the hole is not sealed, retinal detachment can occur. Retinal detachment is very serious and can lead to blindness.

If you have an eye floater associated with a tear in the retina, Mr Bailey can seal the tear using laser eye surgery or, occasionally cryo (freezing) therapy, if the eye is examined quickly. Laser treatment and cryotherapy only take a few minutes, and patients can go home immediately afterwards. It is vital to contact us quickly because an operation in hospital will be needed if the hole is left too long.

If an annoying eye floater still remains, it can sometimes be partly vapourised and partly broken up into tiny particles using another laser. This treatment, called YAG laser vitreolysis, again only takes a few minutes, is completely painless .

Not all floaters, however, are suitable for laser treatment:

Laser treatment works best for dense, central floaters that are fairly static, close to the line of sight and well away from the lens in front and the retina behind. The floater(s) are partly vapourised and partly broken up into very small ones the annoyance value of which should be considerably less.

Diffuse or 'cloud-like' floaters, very small fast-moving floaters, floaters in the periphery of your vision, and string-like floaters, are usually not suitable for laser treatment.

The success rate rather depends on the size, density and location of the floaters in your eyes, but if they can be lasered then you should nearly always get an improvement.

If there are a multitude of floaters then the subjective improvement of dealing with only some of them is likely to be small and there is a risk of causing more peripheral floaters to drift toward the centre by virtue of cavitating the vitreous gel. Several treatment sessions may be needed for some floaters.

The procedure is, nevertheless, very safe. A few cases of cataract and retinal complications (such as haemorrhage) have been reported. A retinal haemorrhage could have a profoundly damaging effect on the vision if it was in the centre of the retina. However, the only other treatment possible is surgical vitrectomy, a full-scale operation with, approximately, a 3% risk of sight-threatening complications and about a 30% risk of cataract, so it is often worth exploring the possibility of laser treatment first!

For more information about eye floaters, contact our London practice.

C S Bailey BSc FRCS DO CertLRS, 99 Harley Street  London W1G 6AQ. Tel: +44 (0)207 935 1010  Fax: +44 (0)20 7084 7729