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Ignoring “No Big Deal” Floaters Could Be a HUGE Deal!

“I’ve got a few floaters, but they are no big deal.”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that . . .

Just the other day a patient came to our office to replace his five year old glasses that are falling apart. He really didn’t think he needed an eye exam, but thought if he was going to invest in glasses he might as well have his eyes checked out.  He also mentioned, “I’ve got a few floaters, but they are no big deal.”

Often times that’s true. Floaters are commonly a symptom of a natural degeneration of the vitreous, a gel that fills the inside of our eye and functions to fill space much like the air in a basketball.  Overtime the gel becomes more watery and eventually the shell of the gel (think water balloon) collapses and the patient will see little flecks of the shell floating around in their eye.  For some it is quite annoying, but usually the symptoms subside over time and you only occasionally see the floaters.

Conversely, there are times when the floaters are a big deal and they are a symptom of a very serious problem. The most common ominous cause of floaters is a break in the retina that is causing a retinal detachment, which if left untreated can lead to irreversible, lights-out blindness.

The photo to the right is of my patient’s right retina. His “no big deal” floaters were a HUGE deal – he had a giant tear in his retina and a resulting retinal detachment that was progressing towards the center of his vision.  It wouldn’t have been too long before the lights would have went out on his right eye.  Fortunately for him, his glasses fell apart!

So how does a patient know whether the floaters they have are the benign vitreous floaters or the more ominous retinal detachment floaters? The answer is that  the patient doesn’t know – it is only when we dilate the eye and look, or the patient looses significant vision that we know the answer.  Obviously our goal is to catch the problem when it’s fixable.  So don’t ignore your “no big deal” eye symptoms – get them checked out.  And remember to “check yearly to see clearly!”

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