The speck that won’t go awayNot long after arriving at work one day, I noticed a small black speck in my eye. I always wore makeup to the office, so I hurried to the women’s room to try to clean up what was probably a bit of clumsily applied mascara. But not only could I not get it out, it seemed to move about when I shifted focus, as if attached somehow to my eyeball. My anxious imagination went into overdrive.
As it turns out, it was really nothing to worry about; I had simply developed what’s called a “floater.”
Eye floaters are little specks or strands or squiggles that are somewhat annoying but don’t generally interfere with vision. Although they can result from eye injury or disease, the usually are caused by that mysterious collagen that gives youthful skin its bloom. The reason is that just as collagen in our skin breaks down as we age, so does the collagen in vitreous humor, the gel-like substance behind our eyes.
This vitreous debris changes the amount of light that hits the eye retina, casting a shadow that causes the symptom of an eye floater. So no matter how many times you rinse your eye, you can’t access the collagen causing the problem.
Although floaters can appear at any age, they are more likely to occur after age 50, or if you are very nearsighted or have had cataract surgery.
For most people, floaters are a minor annoyance, but if you develop vision loss or experience flashes of light, it’s best to seek medical advice.
Some ophthalmologists have attempted to treat floaters with laser, but it’s risky and hasn’t proven successful. There’s also a procedure called a vitrectomy that can clear the vitreous and any other debris. However, the risk of complications is high and in most cases not recommended.
The good news is that floaters tend to decrease in size and darkness over time. Mine is still floating around in my left eye, but I’ve become so oblivious to it that every so often I check to see if it’s floated away.