Floater Laser Removal – Ping Pong Your Floaters are Gone

Written by Dr. David Evans   Last modified on August 6, 2018

Do you ever notice small black or grey specks that float across your vision from time to time? Perhaps they are more apparent when staring at a bright surface, like a computer screen or sheet of paper. These are called eye floaters and they are very common.

Eye floaters occur when the vitreous (water-based gelatinous substance that constitutes 80 percent of the space between the lens and retina) shrinks with age. Microscopic collagen fibers clump together and/or break apart from the vitreous as a result of this shrinkage. These fibers can float around in the vitreous and block part of the visual field; hence the name “floaters.”

Floaters are a common vision problem and many of our readers have asked about them. As such, Better Vision Guide provides several articles geared towards eye floaters that I urge you to check out (4 things to know about eye floaters and when is an eye floater more than just a nuisance?). Although floaters are typically no cause for alarm, they can (on occasion) be symptomatic of a serious vision problem like retinal detachment. But more often than not they’re simply annoying.

Currently, the primary treatment for severe floaters is vitrectomy. Vitrectomy surgery is an invasive procedure that involves removal of the shrinking vitreous. Saline or silicone is then injected as a replacement to hold the retina in place.

When floaters are minor and treatment is not recommended, patients must simply live with the occasional specs in their vision. That said, I was recently attending a lecture at the Caribbean Eye Meeting that addressed these minor floaters. Dr. Stonecypher, a well-known surgeon from Greensboro, N.C. spoke about a unique treatment he uses. As stated above, most floaters are minor and not worth treating. However, Dr. Stonecypher had an interesting patient worth mentioning — a professional ping pong player. And as you might have guessed, the floaters would drift across the player’s vision during a match interfering with his ability to see the ball quickly enough. Although not a health hazard, these minor floaters were impacting that patient’s professional livelihood. And the patient wanted something done.

YAG Vitreolysis – Floater Laser Removal

Dr. Stonecyper had previously been exposed to a different type of treatment for floaters that he had been using, called YAG vitreolysis (a fancy name for using a laser to zap away floaters).  Given the unique situation with his ping pong-playing patient, he thought maybe his treatment could help. And he was right.

To perform the procedure, the eye doctor focuses a YAG laser on a floater and zaps it with a short (like .000000003 seconds short) burst of energy.

You might be asking yourself, wouldn’t zapping the floaters simply break them into smaller pieces compounding the problem? Far from it. The laser’s energy actually vaporizes the floater, destroying it completely. The molecules that make up the vitreous are instantly converted into a harmless gas that is then resorbed by the eye.

The YAG vitreolysis procedure takes roughly 20 to 60 minutes per session. The doctor first administers eye drops which help to prepare the eye (and provide a very mild anesthesia to minimize discomfort). The laser does not contact the eye directly. It is filtered through a special contact lens that is put in place after the drops. Patients may notice small dark spots in their vision during treatment. This is merely the gas bubbles produced by vitreous vaporization. They dissolve instantly as they are resorbed into the eye.

Once treatment is completed, anti-inflammatory drops may be administered to limit any inflammation caused by the process. Most patients will require two or more treatment sessions to fully eradicate problem floaters. The good news is that since the post-procedure impact of treatment is essentially nil, these sessions can be performed on back-to-back days. Vision may be minimally blurred immediately after treatment, and patients may continue to notice small dark spots as remaining gas bubbles dissolve. Generally speaking, side effects are rare and complications minimal.

It is worth noting that even though floater laser removal is easier and less invasive than vitrectomy, it does have some risks. These include things like retinal detachment or damage, and increased risk for cataracts and glaucoma. Similarly, floater laser removal may not be the right course of treatment for everyone. If floaters are significantly bothering you, (even if you aren’t a professional ping pong player) the best thing to do is schedule a consultation with an ophthalmologist for a thorough evaluation.