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Seeing Spots Before Your Eyes?

I often see spots or squiggly lines in my eyes. My eye doctor says that they're called "floaters" and are not serious, but they are so annoying. Can I do something to get rid of them?

Answer (Published 9/19/2006)

Floaters are very common and, alas, are a product of aging eyes. They occur when the vitreous humor, the gel-like substance that helps the eye maintain its shape, begins to shrink as we get older. Due to the shrinkage, the vitreous can become stringy. The strands cast shadows on the retina. The shadows are the spots or "floaters" that annoy you so.

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You're more likely to develop floaters if you're very nearsighted, have diabetes, or have had cataract surgery. In some cases, floaters can be due to infection, inflammation, hemorrhages, retinal tears, and injury to the eye – but those causes are the exceptions, not the rule, and your doctor will have checked for them.

Although floaters don't go away completely, they may settle eventually at the bottom of the eye, below your line of sight and you will notice them less often. Some people aren't bothered by their floaters unless they're looking at something bright – a sheet of white paper or the blue sky.

There's no treatment for garden-variety floaters, but if they become so dense and numerous that they affect vision, surgery may be recommended. In this procedure, the vitreous is removed and replaced with a salt solution. However, this operation is risky – possible complications include retinal detachment, retinal tears, and cataract. I wouldn't advise it for anyone whose sight isn't significantly impaired by floaters.

I do recommend the following lifestyle measures:

  • To protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays and keep them healthy, wear sunglasses.
  • Don't smoke, and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Follow a diet that is low in saturated fat and rich in antioxidants, focusing on vegetables, fruit, and legumes including soy, whole grains and fish.
  • Eat antioxidant-rich berries, especially blueberries, frequently.
  • Increase your intake of vitamins C and E, lutein, and zinc.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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