"Doctor, I have bugs in my eyes!"
When I was undergoing my optometry training and was examining patients in the clinic, I will never forget the words coming from a patient who had just walked in the door. She said, "Doctor, I have bugs in my eyes!" The patient was clearly in pain from what appeared to be a chemical burn in and around both of her eyes.
This elderly lady, thinking she was actually seeing 'bugs' in her eyes, had mistaken them for a very common eye condition called 'vitreous floaters'.
Vitreous floaters are actually small particles of vitreous fibers which may have the appearance of lint, cobwebs, spots, squiggly lines, or, yes bugs, that drift around the fluid found in the eye. They tend to increase with age, are more common in highly nearsighted individuals, and are seen more often immediately after eye surgery.
Vitreous floaters originate in the vitreous body which is a gel-like substance that fills about 80% of the eye. It helps the eye maintain its round shape. Throughout life this material slowly shrinks, causing it to become somewhat stringy, casting a shadow on the retina. Since the strands 'float' in the gel as the eye moves, they have acquired the term 'floaters'. Virtually everyone has them at some level.
They remind me of a snowglobe with a scene of a winter village and lots of snow on the ground. If you shake the snowglobe the 'snow' becomes airborne, falling on the village. Those, to me, are floaters! They are most easily seen when viewing a plain background, against a blue sky or looking in a microscope.
It is important to note that they are usually not of any consequence and, as I like to say, are for 'entertainment purposes only'. BUT, if you have ever noticed them before, if they suddenly increase in size or number, or if they accompany sudden onset of flashes of light especially in the periphery, you should contact your eye doctor right away. It is likely you will be appointed on short notice for a thorough dilated examination of the retina. The chief purpose of the examination is to rule out, a detached retina, or retinal tear. These are more serious conditions, that, if detected early, can be repaired before permanent vision damage occurs.
Unfortunately, in most cases there is no treatment for vitreous floaters. Understanding what they are and what to do is very important. Do not hesitate to contact our office should you experience the symptoms stated above.
Back to our elderly lady... since she thought they were 'bugs' she decided to try and eliminate them by administering a bug spray directly to her face! But, don't worry, she did not experience any permanent damage and recovered fully after a few weeks. Fortunately, she was quick to come into the clinic for treatment, and learned a valuable lesson.
One that she and I will never forget!