You’re typing at your desk like any normal work day, and you happen to glance away from the screen. As you do, a cluster of grey-ish dots appears out of nowhere, drifting along wherever you turn your gaze. You clean off your glasses and check for eye boogers, but that doesn’t help. It’s like the dots are somehow stuck on your eye.
That’s because they are. Those annoying shapes are called eye floaters, and they can look like black or grey spots, squiggles, or cobweb-like strings. They drift around your field of vision and dart away when you try to look at them directly, eventually settling the bottom of your eye and out of your sightline. Floaters appear when the vitreous, the gel-like substance that gives your eye its round shape, shrinks and forms clumps or strands. So what you’re seeing is actually the shadow of those clumps on your retina.
Almost everyone experiences eye floaters over their lifetimes, and they’re more annoying than anything. The people most at risk are those who are diabetic, have had cataract surgery, are very nearsighted, or are over 50. (Visiting your eye doctor is only one important health tweak you need to make when you turn 50.) In rare cases, floaters can also be a sign of retinal tear or retinal detachment, which could cause you to lose your eyesight permanently. If you see a lot of new floaters, flashes, or a shadow in your peripheral vision, contact your doctor immediately.
However, a new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology shows that YAG lasers (the same lasers used for cataract surgeries) may be a viable solution for these floating annoyances that don’t pose major health risks. In a randomized clinical trial, 52 patients either received the laser treatment or a sham one. Of those who received the real treatment, 54 percent saw their floaters decrease over the next six months.
Researchers say more studies will need to be done before this option becomes available to the public. For now, most people learn to ignore them. These tips can help you be temporarily rid of those nuisances:
- Move your eyes up and down, or left to right; that can shift the floater.
- Stare as far into the distance as you can, so you’re not looking at them directly.
- Avoid looking at blank white walls or bright lights; that makes them easier to see.
Surprised that eye floaters could be such a huge warning sign? We were, too. Check out more serious health problems that can’t wait and read up on their subtle symptoms.