When something seems to be wrong with your body, it can’t help but make you anxious. Your eyes are some of your most important sensory organs, and the idea of going blind or developing of vision problems can be terrifying.
Eye floaters are translucent shapes that seem to float across your vision in the form of wiggly lines or “worms,” webs, or dots particularly in front of backgrounds of a solid color, such as a blue sky. But what are they really, and what can you do to keep them from causing you anxiety?
Eye Floaters = Anxiety?
Eye floaters are normal events, although there is some evidence that anxiety can even increase the number of eye floaters. Nevertheless, they're harmless, and it's only your anxiety that you need to worry about. Find out how with my free 7 minute anxiety test.
Questions You May Have About Floaters
One of the most important things to remember is that one of the symptoms of anxiety is worrying that some issues mean more than they do. For example, someone without anxiety wakes up with back pain, stretches, and ignores it. Someone with anxiety wakes up with back pain, worries they may have hurt their back, worries that anxiety may also have caused it, etc.
If you're worried about eye floaters, see an eye doctor. But also make sure you take my anxiety test to learn more about your anxiety and how to treat it.
When floaters are making you anxious, there are probably a few questions that run through your head. These answers will hopefully help you to feel calmer about their existence.
- Am I Seeing Things? Nope. Eye floaters are actual physical material, rather than visual illusions. Specifically, they are microscopic deposits of varying sizes and shapes that float within the eye’s vitreous humor (the transparent, gel-like substance that fills the eyeball). They cast shadows on the eye’s retina and can refract light, making them almost seem to “glow.”
- Why Do I Have Them? Almost 98% of the time, they occur due to natural imperfections that develop within the vitreous humor. The vitreous humor is made of water and solid elements (namely natural collagen and “hyaluronic” acid). When the vitreous humor shrinks with age, the collagen is broken down into the tendril and dot-like deposits that you see. The other 2% of the time, they occur due to either retinal detachment (also a natural occurrence later in life), or to retinal damage. Detachment, however, causes massive numbers of eye floaters all at once and many other symptoms.
- How Common Is This Condition? The condition of seeing floaters is common enough to have its own official name. The clinical term for the condition of seeing floaters is “myodesopsia.” It is a fairly common condition that naturally occurs as a person ages and the clear vitreous humor within the eye develops imperfections.
- Can They Happen To Young People Too? Yes. However, if you are young and have myodesopsia, the floaters are actually located on the retina rather than inside the vitreous fluid. These can be more difficult to treat, though it is usually unnecessary, because they are rarely severe cases.
- When Are Floaters Considered “Severe”? Myodesopsia can be “mild” or “severe.” With mild floaters, they may simply prove an anxiety-inducing distraction, now and then causing temporarily blurred vision, catching the light or appearing to be a shape you can see moving out of the corner of your eye that always moves out of view before you can get a look at it due to the tendency of floaters to float downward and to move when the eye moves. Severe floaters almost always stay within direct view.
- Is It Possible To Look at Floaters Directly? If the way your floaters drift slowly through your vision but never let you look at them is driving you crazy, try lying on your back and looking straight up into a blue sky. Lying down will cause the floaters to drift to the back and center of your eye, which should place them at the center of your vision.
Now that you know a few of the answers to the questions your anxiety has been plaguing you with, you are probably wondering how to go about treating floaters and any remaining floater anxiety you may have. This will be addressed in the following section.
How to Treat Eye-Floaters and Floater Anxiety
Fortunately, eye floaters are not dangerous, and are only rarely severe enough to cause vision problems. When floaters are this severe, a procedure called a “vitrectomy” is performed to remove as much of the floater as possible. While these procedures are usually successful, complications can include more serious eye problems such as cataracts and optic nerve damage.
Treating floater anxiety is much safer and usually all that is required for floaters (when they are mild) to stop bothering you. Mild floaters are frequently invisible, except when you happen to be staring at a monochromatic background or when they catch the light in bright sunlight. To stop thinking and worrying about your eye floaters, try the following tips:
- Wear Sunglasses on Bright Days Sunglasses help to reduce the amount that your pupils constrict in response to bright light, which makes floaters less visible. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. However, you don’t want to have to wear sunglasses all the time. The tips below will help you even on cloudy days, or when you’re indoors.
- Get More Sleep If you haven’t been sleeping, not only will your eyes be more uncomfortable in bright light (as pupil dilation and contraction, your eyes’ response to light, slows down with all of your other functions when you have not slept enough), but the blurry spots in the corners of your eye may cause you extra confusion and distress. Getting extra sleep will help your body relax and recharge, reducing stress levels and simultaneously reducing the intensity of your reactions to stimuli such as eye floaters.
- Join a Club or Group Counter-intuitively, quiet environments can sometimes increase your stress. If your life is very solitary or lacks activity, it may be easier for stressful thoughts and feelings to overcome you simply because you have nothing else to distract you. Though joining a club or group may seem stressful, there are many different types (knitting, reading, running, or online groups, for example), and you can pick the type that feels most comfortable for you. Having people to talk to and learn about can help you think about life outside yourself, rather than letting the minor oddities of your own life get blown out of proportion.
- Stay Active Sitting still and doing nothing may cause your mind to register floaters as the most important thing happening, resulting in obsessive contemplation and eventually panic. When you start to feel this way, get up and take a walk, go for a bike ride, play with a pet or talk to a friend: you’ll soon notice that the floaters no longer seem as important to pay attention to.
- Talk to Someone If you are still in doubt or concerned about your floaters, talking to a doctor may help alleviate those fears for good. If the doctor tells you not to worry, and the above techniques have not helped you to relax, it may be time to talk to a therapist to help you overcome the nagging thoughts that won’t allow you to relax.
Eye floaters themselves can’t hurt you, but worrying about them too much can. Keeping yourself busy as well as healthy in body and mind can be a great help in overcoming your eye-floater anxiety.
Before you go, make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test as well. This test will look at some of your symptoms and show you what you can do to start reducing that anxiety today.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.