Floaters usually harmless, but can be warning sign

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What happened to me is apparently pretty rare.

Dr. Barry Lee, an eye surgeon with Eye Consultants of Atlanta says most floaters are harmless, even though they can be stubborn.

It’s frustrating, because there's not a magic drop I can give them or a magic surgery to make them go away,” Dr. Lee.  “It's probably one of the more common complaints we get."

Floaters are spots, that can look like cobwebs or specks or transparent strings, drifting across your vision.

Dr. Lee says they're tiny protein clumps that break away from the vitreous gel inside the eye and cast a shadow across the retina.

"If you've had floaters for many years, and your floaters are stable, that is not a concern. But if you have a new onset of floaters, that's more worrisome."

Because, as I learned, floaters, especially if you're also seeing flashing lights, can be a sign of a torn retina. 

Being nearsighted like I am, suffering an eye injury, or a age-related deterioration of the gel inside the eye can all raise your risk of a tear.”

Dr. Lee says watch for a sudden change in vision.

"You've been fine, and all of a sudden, you woke up or you're at work and a big floater popped up,” Dr. Lee says. “And, you may have noticed flashing lights or different images. That person needs to go and get their eyes dilated to look at the retina."

The frightening thing is, I had no pain.


On Sunday afternoon, I had floaters.

By Monday, I was seeing flashing lights.

By Tuesday, I could no longer see out of the lower part of my right eye.

I was losing my vision, and I had not felt a thing.

“Usually the vision loss is from of sides, so it's like someone is pulling a curtain from your side vision,” Dr. Lee says. “Eventually it will cover the full part of the eye."

I went to my optometrist, who sent me immediately to a retina surgeon.

My right retina wasn't just torn, it was detached, and I was in surgery early the next morning.

Without it, I could have permanently lost vision in my right eye. "Even if you reattach that retina with surgery, you may not get the function back that you once had,” Dr. Lee says.  “But, if you can catch it pretty quickly, in just a few days, often times you can repair that back to normal.”

I was lucky; I had no vision loss.

Nine months later, I woke up with floaters and flashing lights in my left eye.

This time, I went to the eye surgeon immediately.

I’d torn the other retina, but it had not yet detached from the back of my eye.

This time around, the tear was repaired with a laser.

Doctor Lee urges anyone experiencing sudden changes in their vision to see an eye doctor.