Italian Association for Vitreous Floaters
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The causes of the vitreous floaters


When trying to characterize the causes of vitreous floaters, it must be understood that there are different causes for the appearance of the mobile bodies. Some are “benign”, which means that the cause is a more or less premature degeneration of the vitreous, whereas others are symptoms of much more serious eye problems, such as retina detachment. In the latter cases, it is of fundamental importance to quickly carry out accurate tests with a specialist ophthalmologist, as retina detachments can be successfully treated according to the seriousness of the condition and to the promptness with which medical advice is sought.
In this section, we will instead take into consideration the vitreous floaters as a disease “per se”, that is, discounting the fact that the most serious ocular problems may occur. It is obvious that only an accurate visit with an ophthalmologist can reveal an ongoing retina detachment and therefore it is essential to highlight the fact that these notes should be considered only after a medical examination has been able to exclude such condition.
We can immediately say that ophthalmology does not consider the vitreous bodies as a disease, but it treats them either as secondary effects to other more serious ocular conditions or as benign symptoms of natural effects such as aging of the vitreous body or the presence of myopia. Detailed studies have never been made, also because the medical class is still far from a proper awareness of how much this condition can be debilitating. For this schematic treatment of the vitreous bodies, therefore, we will consider the little “definite” information which is available, often derived from the personal medical examinations that we have undergone and from the experiences that we have exchanged with other “patients” on the Net.
The main cause of the benign vitreous bodies can certainly to be attributed to aging: a degeneration of the ialuronic acid molecules that support the collagen fibrils present in the gelatinous state of the vitreous is linked to age and it has been shown that, as life progresses, the vitreous undergoes a progressive liquefaction. This can cause the collagen fibrils to coalesce and form fibres, which constitutes a floater. As already described elsewhere in this site, this degeneration consists in the non-uniform liquefaction of the gelatinous structure of the vitreous and in the formation of liquid zones inside the structure that remains solid. In these zones of degeneration, the collagen fibrils, not supported anymore by the ialuronic acid molecules , tend to gather together and to form visible fibres of collagen. In itself, this phenomenon is similar to the cataract, even if the latter concerns the crystalline lens and consists in its progressive loss of transparency.
As already pointed out, official medicine considers that a rather elevated myopia (above approximately 5 dioptres) can cause the acceleration of the processes of vitreal degeneration, even in people of young age (between twenty and thirty years). This phenomenon has been attributed to the abnormal development of the eyeball in the shortsighted person that, as opposed to the case of the emmetropic (that is, a person with normal eyesight), turns out to be lengthened and not perfectly spherical. This shape tends to produce a greater mechanical tension on the molecular structure of the vitreous humour that therefore tends to degenerate more quickly. At this stage it seems obvious to point out that no operation of refractive surgery (PRK, LASIK, LASEK) can improve the condition, as none of the above acts in the sense of changing the shape of the eyeball.
Official medicine, moreover, reports the following as possible causes: violent traumas to the head, to the use of certain eyedrops (containing cortisone) for prolonged periods of time, the dehydration due to the heat in summer months, wrong alimentary regimes (such as drastic diets or fasting); and finally the presence of a high intraocular pressure (around 21mmHg). Thorough statistical studies do not exist of these factors. They are rather collected from the direct experience of doctors who, more than ever, have to deal with young patients affected from debilitating vitreous floaters.
We finally mention, among the possible causes, that associated to the refractive surgery LASIK. This technique makes use of a particular instrument, the microkeratome, in order to carry out the “corneal flap” on the patient undergoing the laser reshaping of the cornea. It appears in fact that such instrument can apply high mechanical stresses on the vitreous that could potentially lead to the appearance within a short period of the vitreous bodies.
Beside these causes, more or less recognised in medical studies, we proceed to mention several others, often not correlated with each other, but whose presence we consider suspect after having excluded the official ones. Obviously, lacking detailed studies and statistical analyses, it is impossible to give proper scientific authority to the following. Nonetheless, it is clear that many cases we have observed cannot be explained by the causes acknowledged by official science.
For this reason, we report some of the more common causes that often patients describe when the vitreous floaters appear for the first time, usually without any warning. The patients report stressful periods, alterations of the rhythm sleep-wake, having exceeded the use of coffee or high-energy and/or alcoholic drinks; they also describe strong negative emotions or extended exposures to intense light sources.
The intensive use of the computer monitor could also be a common cause: Considered the progressive increase of professions where more than ever it is necessary to use a PC, it would seem obvious that an extended exposure to the intense brightness of the monitor (or of its “refresh” function) could increase the stress applied on the eyes and thus cause the degeneration of the vitreous. Again we point out that for this possible explanation no detailed scientific study exists and that many ophthalmologists we have consulted have categorically excluded it.
It seems instead that our problem cannot be attributed in any way to an incorrect diet, if not in relationship with the before mentioned dehydration. Many doctors we consulted have in fact totally excluded that the problem of vitreous floaters is in any way linked to an incorrect, or poor, or lacking anti-oxidants diet.
We also quote, for the sake of completeness, another possible cause of the vitreous floaters, luckily extremely infrequent: the presence of a rare condition called amyloidosis. This disease, nearly always fatal, involves the anomalous formation of a protein, the amyloid, that is deposited in some organs in the human body, including the vitreous, until it can halt their functions. In order to dispel unnecessary fears, it is important to point out that this disease is extremely rare and that due to its genetic nature, it is confined to specific geographical areas .
As of now, we want to point out an important question: is the epidemic-like increase of affected patients among the young to be somehow correlated to possible modifications of the living habits or of the genetic patrimony of our generations? The problem could also be read in a diametrically opposite way: since the problem of vitreous floaters is as old as man, could it be that only today, with the availability of a tool of mass communication such as the Internet, the patients can recognise themselves in the experiences of others and share their own problems ? To these questions, an answer should be provided by official medicine, with statistical studies and thorough clinical tests. Unfortunately these are still to come.