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Do Visual Floaters Ever Go Away?

Do you see floaters when you look up at the sky or try to read a book? This is a common problem that can be frustrating for some. Do floaters go away – or are you stuck with them permanently?

Do you see floaters when you’re trying to read a book or look up at the sky? Visual floaters are a common problem – especially among people over the age of fifty. Although they’re usually not a sign of disease or serious visual problems, people who are burdened with them often wonder if they’re permanent. Do floaters go away?

What Causes Floaters?: It All Goes Back to the Vitreous

Floaters occur for a variety of reasons, but they’re mostly related to the aging process. The back of the eye is filled with a gel-like material called vitreous. Over time, the vitreous starts to shrink and liquefy and release tiny fibers that float around freely. These fibers cast a shadow when they move in front of the retina. This causes a person to see floaters – and, sometimes, flashes of light.

Eventually the vitreous may detach from the back of the eye leading to a sudden increase in floaters. In rare cases, vitreous separation puts so much traction on the retina that the retina tears. When this happens a person may see a shower of new floaters, flashing lights, or a decrease in peripheral vision. In this happens, it’s important to see an opthamologist immediately to check for a retinal detachment – which can lead to blindness.

What Causes Floaters?: The Importance of an Exam

Most floaters are a part of the aging process and usually aren’t a cause for concern. Nevertheless, it’s important to get an eye exam when new floaters appear to make sure there’s no problem with the retina. Floaters occur more frequently in people who have certain medical conditions such as diabetes, so it’s important to get a complete physical exam – not just an eye exam – when new floaters start to appear.

Do Floaters Go Away?

Many people learn to deal with their floaters – and over time the brain starts to tune them out so they’re less annoying. For some people, visual floaters are more problematic – obstructing vision and making it difficult to even read a book. For these unfortunate people, there is a procedure called a vitrectomy. This involves removing the vitreous along with the floaters from the eye and replacing it with salt water solution. This treatment isn’t recommended since it’s associated with serious complications including cataracts and retinal detachment.

In some cases, floaters grow worse with aging – or they may improve as your brain adapts and more effectively tunes them out. The bottom line? Try not to focus on floaters. Once you do, it’s hard not to see them. If they’re obstructing your vision, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of a vitrectomy.

References:

Merck Manual. Eighteen edition.

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