Seeing floaters? Make an appointment with your eye doc ASAP

Q: Lately I have been noticing a dark “cobweb” in my vision, and it seems to move when I look in different directions. I am in my 50s, so is this normal?

A: Frankly, this sort of visual phenomenon is very common as we age. And while this is not unusual, this type of symptom may be anything from benign to vision endangering.

Essentially, our eyes contain a clear jelly called “vitreous,” acting as a shock absorber for trauma to the eye. As the years roll by, this jelly becomes more watery, as tiny fibers separate and often clump together to become big enough to be seen. Actually, when we see these “floaters” in our vision we are seeing the shadows of those fibers.

As you know, there is no feeling or discomfort with this phenomenon, and usually our vision is still clear and sharp, although, the “cobweb” can get in the way at times. The key warning signs of more serious implications are: flashes of light, any loss of sharpness in your central vision, or any part of your vision that seems dark or missing. These signs may be indicative of damage to the delicate nerve tissue lining the back of our eyes — our retina. Damage to our retina can leave permanent loss of clarity and/or permanent loss of our full field of view.

Fortunately, your eye doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of your floaters. Typically, we will use dilation eye drops to enlarge your pupils, allowing us a far sharper and larger view inside your eyes. We can actually see the floaters, not just the shadows of them, and more critically determine the cause of them. Our primary concern is to be certain that the retina is intact and not being damaged. Separation or detachment of the retina can begin with just floaters, and progress to actual loss of vision that cannot be restored.

Lastly, I must stress that time is of the essence, meaning that you should see your eye doctor as soon as possible. Most eye doctors instruct our staff to schedule a patient with floaters the same day they call. Early and small retinal detachments can be successfully treated and preserve your vision — but time is critical.

Dr. Thomas Stout, OD, FAAO, is an eye physician in private practice at Morgantown Eye Associates. Info: MorgantownEye.com.

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