Millions of Americans who live with annoying spots in their field of vision may soon have a remedy: a laser treatment called YAG vitreolysis.
A new study followed 680 patients who underwent this procedure to reduce the symptoms of eye floaters. Ninety-three percent reported significant improvement in their vision.
Inder Paul Singh, MD, an ophthalmologist with the Eye Centers of Racine and Kenosha in Wisconsin, led the study. Dr. Singh and his team followed patients from one to four years after the treatment. Fewer than 1 percent had any complications.
“For years, the only treatment option for eye floaters was invasive surgery. As a result, many patients were resigned to putting up with a condition that interfered with their daily functioning—until now,” Dr. Singh says.
Laser technology has been used in eye care for decades, but it wasn’t optimized for targeting floaters. Newer lasers, like the one used in Dr. Singh’s study, can better visualize and pinpoint floaters and deliver energy more efficiently to break them up. In some cases, the laser can even vaporize the floaters. As a result, there is less risk of damage to the lens or retina during the procedure.
Eye floaters are part of a gel-like substance in the back of the eye called the vitreous. As you age, the vitreous contracts and the individual fibers can form clumps. These clumps cast shadows on the retina as they float around in the back of your eye. They may appear as dots, threads or large clouds that affect your vision. Some people adapt to floaters, but for others they are a serious nuisance.
More and more doctors are performing YAG vitreolysis today and Dr. Singh expects the treatment to become more mainstream. While some published studies validate the safety and efficacy of the new technology, additional research is underway. Future studies will look at the best laser energy levels to use and the long-term effect of the procedure on the vitreous and the retina.
Millions of people ultimately may benefit. About one out of four individuals experience eye floaters by age 60. By age 80, two-thirds of people will face these irritating specks in their vision.
The procedure is done in-office, and lasts anywhere from five to 30 minutes. First, the doctor administers drops to dilate and numb the eye. Next, they use the laser, which looks like a lamp, to vaporize floaters. Patients report feeling pressure, but no pain, during the treatment. Though rare, the most common complication is a spike in intraocular pressure. If this happens, it can be treated with antihypertensive eye drops. Insurance may cover the cost of the procedure for some patients.
Dr. Singh says the procedure can be performed for many different types of floaters. However, it may be most helpful for:
- patients who are older and have larger floaters that are easier to locate;
- near-sighted people who tend to have more floaters in general;
- and people who have already had cataract surgery, making it easier to see into the inside of their eyes.