Floaters - When it's an Emergency and When it's Not

Vitreous floaters or muscae volitantes are benign, normal entoptic phenomena. I always say that everybody over about 30 has them, and if they don't...well they do, they just aren't astute enough to have noticed them. With today being Dec 22, we and every eye doctor's office will inevitably get some emergency calls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day about floaters. That's because when you google "eye floaters" there are a lot of scary things to read about, namely retinal detachment. So let's just run down real quick when it could be an emergency and when it's probably not:


- it occurs in both eyes equally
- small dots or squiggles
- less than say 10 floaters per eye
- floaters are not always present
- no flashes of light
- still see well out of affected eye

Whenever someone calls the office about floaters I have my staff ask them: "one eye or both eyes?" If it's both, it is almost never an emergency. All the really bad stuff happens in one eye. Things that happen in both eyes are almost always benign. If its a few new small dots or squiggles that come and go, and no flashes of light, and you still see well, then just make an appointment for the 1st day the doc is back in the office after the holiday. For the record all floaters need to be investigated, just some sooner than others.


- one eye only
- large, very blurry, black, gray or red masses
- a *lot* of new floaters
- floaters always present
- flashes of light
- see poorly from that eye like something is "blocking" all or a portion of your vision

If any combo of that last list is true, it's time to call your eye doc's emergency number and have them see you today. It could be a retinal problem like a hole, tear, detachment, or hemorrhage that may need immediate intervention. Almost no retinal problem is painful, which is why sometimes people don't come in. They figure if it doesn't hurt, how bad could it be? Well the answer is: bad. Retinal problems don't feel like anything. They don't hurt or itch or burn...they have no feeling at all. Okay so in summary: HAVE A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and if you feel like you fall into the second list, call your eye doctor right now! If you fit solely in the first category, wait til the doc is back in the office, no biggie.


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