Vitreous opacities are almost universal, and most need no treatment. However, larger floaters, as well as those in the mid- or posterior vitreous, frequently cause difficulty in reading, driving, computer usage and concentration.
Because laser treatment of floaters is almost unknown, these floater patients are told to “learn to live with it” and that vitrectomy is the only treatment. But vitrectomy is rarely recommended because of the high risk of cataract formation and a 1% to 3% risk of retinal detachment. The result is that symptomatic floater patients rarely receive treatment.
Fortunately, vitrectomy is not the only treatment for floaters. The YAG laser offers a revolutionary, effective and safe way to treat such patients. Dr. John R. Karickhoff, MD started using this treatment in 1990 and have now performed the operation on 750 eyes in patients with functional problems from floaters. Dr. Youssef is doing the same since 2006 with excellent results.
YAG laser obliteration of vitreous floaters has these advantages:
When doctors first learn of this procedure, they almost always have four misconceptions. First, they mistakenly believe that vitreous opacities are not visually significant. Every doctor has seen patients who can ignore even a large floater in the anterior vitreous. But floaters in the mid- and posterior vitreous cast a distinct shadow on the retina that rarely can be ignored. These moving objects can bother patients greatly and ruin the quality of life.
Doctors incorrectly suppose that the mechanism for laser treatment is breaking big floaters into many smaller floaters. Fortunately, there is more than enough power generated through the phenomenon of optical breakdown and plasma formation to transform floaters into a gas and obliterate them, rather than just breaking them into smaller pieces. The proof of this is that the surgeon can easily see a bit of the floater being vaporized and disappearing on laser hits.
They predict that laser treatment for floaters produces retinal detachments. However, my review of the world literature and personal knowledge of 3,000 additional procedures not in the literature have shown the rate of retinal detachment using a YAG laser to treat floaters is zero. Furthermore, I have treated 48 patients who had previous surgery for retinal tears or detachment. Even in these patients with known retinal deterioration, this procedure caused no retinal problems.
Doctors frequently believe that all floaters get better with time. Certainly, if blood is a component, the blood usually absorbs quickly. Some floaters improve by moving more anterior or moving out of the optical axis. But with time, other floaters do not move to a more favorable position and remain symptomatic.
There are three basic treatment techniques: complete vaporization of soft floaters caused by a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), relocation of floater clouds suspended in the visual axis and thinning of floater clouds not in the visual axis.
The two main classes of floaters that are treated are those that attached to the posterior vitreous face after a PVD and those that are within the vitreous as a result of vitreous degeneration.
The floaters that are pulled off the internal limiting membrane by a PVD (Weiss rings and other hyaline floaters) (Figure 1a and 1b) are quite soft and easily vaporized, require the most skill to treat and, in our study, were the most successful (completely or nearly completely vaporized in 96% of cases). The goal in this type of floater is a cure. Normally, the patient will realize the floater is gone before they stand up from the laser.
Why are these floaters the most difficult to treat? At some point in the treatment, these floaters become detached from the vitreous face and start moving toward the retina with each laser impact. I have developed 16 techniques to delay this detachment and another technique to teach the patient to flip the floater forward, away from the retina, so the surgeon can continue to work on it after it has detached from the posterior vitreous face.
Floaters within the vitreous from vitreous degeneration (syneresis floaters) that are dense and suspended directly in the optical axis by vitreous strands can nearly incapacitate patients (Figure 2). The surgical approach is to cut the superior suspending vitreous strands. Frequently, the floater will then sink to the bottom of the eye in a few seconds. This sinking gives the most dramatic improvement of all floater cases. Not only is the visual obstruction removed, but the visual acuity also improves a few lines. If the floaters do not sink to the bottom of the eye, they are then treated directly with the laser. I have treated about 30 such cases, all successfully.
Floaters within the vitreous from syneresis are usually multiple, often cloudlike, fibrous and more difficult to vaporize. There may be 10 to 100 of these floaters in an eye. If these floaters are scattered throughout the vitreous, they are treated by direct impacts from the laser (Figure 3a and 3b). All cannot be completely removed with any reasonable number of shots, so the goal is a significant improvement, not a cure. This goal was achieved in 85% of such cases in our study. These patients are grateful for the thinning out of their floaters.
The majority of patients with functional problems from floaters are candidates for the laser procedure, but surgeons should be aware of about 15 contraindications.
Although we have completed without significant complications an IRB/FDA-supervised study of 200 consecutive eyes with floaters, surgeons should proceed cautiously with this procedure. The procedure requires case selection, concentration and detailed information beyond what can possibly be given in an introductory article. Any complication, such as a pressure rise, must be avoided. It is strongly recommended that Chapter 16 on “Treatment: General Concepts” and Chapter 20 on “Avoiding Complications” of my book be read carefully before performing the procedure.
This information is taken from the following website http://www.eyefloaters.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=70