Clearing the Cobwebs

Laser procedure vanquishes troublesome eye floaters.

Ann Hobson was among millions of people living with eye floaters, those pesky flecks, cloud-like spots, dots and cobwebs that can dart in and out of one’s field of vision. Ann’s were little and didn’t bother her that much initially.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Ann Hobson’s improved vision has benefited her drawing and painting pursuits.

“Then, I started having ones that were really affecting my eyesight,” she recalls. “I was constantly aware of them because I would see dark shadows coming at me, as if a bird was flying overhead. Everything I did was taking a little more effort.”
The floaters so distracted her that she stopped driving in heavy traffic because she was afraid of causing an accident.
On the golf course, she’d have to wait to hit a shot until the floaters settled down. They were most noticeable while she was putting. Seeing a shadow that appeared to be headed at her face was especially disconcerting because she’d once been hit in the temple with a golf ball. A doctor told Ann the blow could’ve killed her if she hadn’t been wearing a visor with a sweatband beneath it.
“Ducking on the golf course, flinching on the interstate is not a good thing,” she notes.
Ann is an artist who enjoys sketching and painting caricatures and landscapes, capturing the ever-changing qualities of natural lighting. Her art requires a lot of detail work, which had become a challenge.
“I was down on the beach one morning, sketching. I had great sunlight and a clean sheet of paper,” she remembers. Ann also had a dark shape in the middle of her left eye.
“It might float around and move a little bit, but it always landed in one place,” she notes. “It was right in the center of my vision.”
Growing more concerned, Ann drew a picture of it and headed to see her optician, who referred her to Retinal Eye Care Associates, where Peter J. Lowe, MD, specializes in nonsurgical treatment of eye floaters. She made an appointment with him that afternoon.
Dr. Lowe, a board-certified ophthalmologist, performed extensive testing to rule out any retinal vascular diseases that are often a normal part of aging. He looked for tears or detachments in her retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the inside of the eye, as well as for conditions like macular degeneration.
The macula – the small, central area of the retina where light is focused by the cornea and lens – allows us to distinguish colors and see fine details. Dr. Lowe determined that Ann’s macula was healthy but covered by a sizable floater.

Casting Shadows on the Retina

“An eye floater basically represents the debris that occurs after a vitreous detachment,” Dr. Lowe explains. “The vitreous is a cellophane-like lining on the inside of the eye. As the eye naturally ages, or after surgery, most commonly cataract surgery, the cellophane lining will sometimes come loose.
“Occasionally, it stays in small, almost completely transparent sheets,” he continues. “Sometimes, however, it clumps up into larger debris fields and casts shadows against the retina.”
Floaters can adversely impact all areas of a person’s life.
“I have a lot of patients who complain of difficulty working at a computer screen,” Dr. Lowe confirms. “Some have trouble driving, as floaters block part of their vision when the pupil constricts in bright sunlight, while others who play tennis have the same issues Ann had when these little cobwebs obstruct enough of their field of vision.”
In the past, people with bothersome floaters were told the best option was to do nothing. The only other treatment that is available is a surgery called a vitrectomy which requires incisions into the eye and is too risky for this disease, Dr. Lowe explains.
“My patients have told me how they’ve tried all kinds of oral medications, eye drops or other ‘remedies’ that promise results but don’t deliver,” he continues. “Some of the lasers that were used previously didn’t vaporize the floaters but merely fragmented them, leaving more floaters rather than a cure.”
Now, people have a much better option: laser vitreolysis, a nonsurgical, in-office procedure that usually takes ten to 15 minutes.
“If there are more than one or two large floaters, it will take two or three treatments to eliminate the problem,” Dr. Lowe comments. Patients with large clouds of floaters are especially challenging but can still be significantly improved with treatment.

Poof! Floaters Vaporized

While laser vitreolysis is painless and incision free, Ann was nervous despite her confidence in Dr. Lowe. She was afraid she’d jerk her head or blink during the procedure. But her fears were allayed after she participated in a practice session with the laser off before the procedure was performed. Following the practice session, an anesthetic drop was placed on her eye and her head was secured in place.
“The treatment was much simpler than I thought it would be,” Ann remarks. “Dr. Lowe has a very calming effect. He answered all my questions and was very reassuring. In fact, the whole staff was wonderful.”
During the procedure, Dr. Lowe precisely aimed the Ellex Ultra Q-R laser at the vitreous debris in Ann’s eye. The laser converted the loose tissue into harmless gas bubbles, which quickly dissolved into the fluid of her eye.
Ann’s floater was a three-dimensional blob that was so big and thick, it was necessary for Dr. Lowe to work around the edges and break it apart piece by piece, she shares.
“When you’re having the procedure done, you can actually see the gray spot breaking up,” Ann describes. “After the first treatment, I could tell that it had diminished in size,” and she was excited and encouraged that Dr. Lowe would be able to remove all of it.
“I felt so grateful and I thought, Wow, this is going to make a huge difference for me and my sight and what’s been hampering it,” she enthuses.
Ann calls her second treatment “a piece of cake” because she was familiar with the process. The final result was both welcome and astounding – the floater was gone.
“It was just an utterly amazing experience to go through,” she raves. “If I were to have more floaters that were impairing my vision significantly, I would definitely go back and do it again.”

Print This Article
    • Retinal Eye Care Associates

      At Retinal Eye Care Associates, they strive to provide the "best eye care in the county." To achieve this goal, Dr. Lowe and his staff actively participate in continuing medical education to remain clinically up-to-date. Additionally, the prac... Read More

    • Peter J. Lowe, MD

      Peter J. Lowe, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist who specializes in retinal and vitreous disease. After completing his undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, he received his medical degree from Chicago Medic... Read More