Eye troubles -- should I worry? and what to do?
February 25, 2013 8:01 PM   Subscribe

For the past two weeks, I've had a big noticeable distracting "floater" right in the middle of my field of vision in my dominant eye. Since it first showed up, it hasn't moved, grown, shrunk or done anything else exciting. But it's driving me batshit — it's distracting as hell when I try to read, for instance — and I'm vaguely worried it might be a symptom of something nasty. What should I do? Is there anything I can do?
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Go to the eye doctor would be my first suggestion.
posted by fshgrl at 8:03 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go and see your doctor.
posted by Youremyworld at 8:04 PM on February 25, 2013

Who is "the eye doctor"? How do I find him? I've never had a vision problem in my life, haven't even had an eye test since like second grade, and I have no idea how this stuff works.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:06 PM on February 25, 2013

Your ordinary doctor would be fine. Or you could google optometrist's or opthamologist's in your area. Or you could enquire at the local glasses shop.
posted by Youremyworld at 8:08 PM on February 25, 2013

Find an ophthalmologist. Ask for an exam. It's okay; you should probably have seen one as an adult here and there anyway.

(Your regular general practitioner will not be of too much help here, and I would strongly recommend an ophthalmologist rather than an optometrist.)
posted by purpleclover at 8:11 PM on February 25, 2013 [21 favorites]

In psych 101 my professor warned that this could be your retina detaching. That was a while ago so take this with a grain of salt, but go see a doctor.
posted by Strass at 8:11 PM on February 25, 2013

You can probably just walk into your local Lenscrafters for an eye exam with an opthamologist.
posted by lalex at 8:16 PM on February 25, 2013

As a followup to what purpleclover says, your local mall or shopping center should have a glasses and contacts place. They have optometrists, and they often take walk-ins, which makes it easy for you. However, they will likely refer you to an ophthalmologist -- just think of that as a fancy eye doctor. So you can walk in and ask who they send their patients to, and they should be able to provide you with a local doctor.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:17 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should definitely see an ophthalmologist in your area - Yelp is a good source of reviews for this type of thing, at least in my area, so you might try there if you're not sure where to go. You should also check with your health insurance company to see if some places are covered and others are not (if you have vision coverage). This can indeed be really serious - i.e. the retina detaching thing mentioned above - my dad had this but luckily caught it in time. Of course, it also may be nothing serious, but regardless it is bugging you, and so something you should get checked out.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:18 PM on February 25, 2013

opthalmologists can kill floaters. They've got a laser they use to zap them into smaller pieces which sink to the bottom of your eyeball.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:36 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hit a walk-in, even if it's Lens Crafters. They'll tell you if you need to do more.
Don't muck about with your vision.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:39 PM on February 25, 2013

This is a not-terrible breakdown of the difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists I found from quick Googling: Historically, ophthalmology has developed as a specialization of medical doctors while optometry originated as a profession that fitted people with glasses. As of 2012, this difference has decreased as the majority of optometrists screen for and treat eye disease and many ophthalmologists fit people with corrective lenses.

In my experience, if you have vision insurance (e.g., VSP), optometrist visits for glasses and contacts evaluations and fittings tend to be covered by that vision insurance. In theory, an optometrist should definitely be able to evaluate this sort of thing, but I, a person with terrible vision, have seen tons of wacky optometrists who do not have good ideas about ... uh, eyes? My prescriptions ended up usually okay?

If you have a medical issue, see an ophthalmologist. If your health insurance is an HMO, your primary care physician should be able to refer you to an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eyes), and your regular health insurance should cover the cost of the visit. If you have a PPO, you should be able to bypass the step with the primary care physician.
posted by purpleclover at 8:41 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

This happened to me about a month ago -- same exact symptoms. In my case it was a small amount of bleeding near my retina, which cleared up on its own after a few weeks. I'm so glad I went to the opthamologist and got it checked out. It was pretty satisfying when the doctor told me he could SEE what I was seeing, ie. it wasn't just something in my brain somewhere or some mysterious ailment. If it does turn out to be something serious, the quicker they can treat it the better (zap it with a laser vs more invasive surgery). So yeah, get it checked out asap!
posted by hamsterdam at 8:42 PM on February 25, 2013

It's worth checking out, because it can indeed be a sign of retinal detachment. It's usually not, but it's responsible to do a quick check on it if you have a new, noticeable floater or a bunch of them all of a sudden. Or "sparks" in your vision, or areas that look something like a shade pulled down over part of your field of vision.

They may want to dilate your pupils. It's nothing to be afraid of - eye drops that will numb them and allow your pupils to open up so they can use their instruments to see your retina better. It's a good idea to ask if they're going to dilate you when you make this appointment. If they are, bring a pair of sunglasses and/or a brimmed hat to keep the light from hurting your eyes when it's over, and arrange for someone to drive you home, or plan to spend a long time doing something else before driving. A lot of opthalmologists are in eyeglass stores in malls, so sometimes you can wander the mall when you're done with the appointment waiting for your sharper vision to return.
posted by Miko at 8:43 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another vote for seeing an ophthalmologist. Your vision is really important (duh) and should be taken care of.

I'm diabetic and have diabetic retinopathy which can present with "floaters" or blank spots in your vision.
posted by deborah at 8:45 PM on February 25, 2013

This could be an indication of a retinal detachment. You need to go see an eye doctor quickly because that can become an emergency situation (with possible loss of sight if treatment is rendered too late). Not meaning to scare you.
posted by Dansaman at 8:45 PM on February 25, 2013

It could be what happened to me a few years ago--vitreous detachment, which is when the vitreous membrane pulls away from the retina.

It's not uncommon for folks over 40 or those who have strong myopia (nearsightedness) and is harmless in itself, but it can be a sign of other stuff to come. Don't worry too much, but do get it checked out.
posted by bumblebeat at 8:50 PM on February 25, 2013

I had something similar happen to me once.

Definitely see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Use your health insurance company's web site to find an ophthalmologist in your network. From there you can Google around for reviews if you want. If you have an HMO, you'll most likely need to ask your primary care physician for a referral.

In my case, it was central serous retinopathy that resolved on its own after a few weeks.
posted by aloysius on the mixing boards at 8:57 PM on February 25, 2013

I have a big floater like that. It appeared in the fall of 2008, and it's still here, still just as annoying, but totally harmless—I went to the ophthalmologist immediately when I noticed it, and I've been to the ophthalmologist several times since, and my retina (and the rest of my eye) was and is fine.

So it's not necessarily dire—but you need to go in to get this checked out right away, because you're not going to know for sure on your own.
posted by limeonaire at 9:06 PM on February 25, 2013

You can probably just walk into your local Lenscrafters for an eye exam with an opthamologist.

Ophthalmologists do not work at LensCrafters, optometrists do. The former goes to medical school, the latter goes to optometry school.
posted by discopolo at 10:21 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, please get thee to an eye clinic. Your condition might be nothing, or it might be the very first sign of something serious. I've had serious eye issues which started as an annoying blurry pinprick right in the middle of my central vision, smaller than a single typed character.

Do you know how, when something is wrong with your car, sometimes you keep driving it for a while hoping it will get better, and after a few weeks it develops into something major that breaks down and then you're paying for a new engine? DO NOT DO THAT WITH YOUR EYES. Lots of eye problems are no biggie if you get them looked at when they first happen but turn into A Big Deal that could Change Your Vision Forever if you wait too long.

If you were seeing weird flashes, sparklies, or flickering then that is an emergency where hours could matter. A floater that doesn't float around and is right in the middle of your view? Still serious. See someone within the week, please.

As for where to go:
Optometrist = a tailor who measures your visual acuity very precisely to best fit corrective lenses or contacts. Also trained to identify, but not treat, medical issues during their examination.
Ophthalmologist = a medical doctor who specializes in eyes and vision. Expert in diagnosing and treating eye problems. Might even be trained to perform ophthalmic surgery.

The normal progression is: first see an optometrist, a clinic is best but even a walk in at a mall Lenscrafters will do. TELL THE DOCTOR about your symptoms (this makes them look harder) and have them do a comprehensive eye examination. They should have the equipment to perform ophthalmoscopy to peer inside your dialated eye and inspect your retina, macula, disc, and other structures for signs of issues. If they can do that, it's highly likely they'll see whatever is causing your floater. (It doesn't hurt and you can't feel it; it's literally a visual inspection).

Then if it's serious, they will recommend you to an ophthalmologist. Recommendations from optometrists is the usual way they get patients; most of them don't take walk ins. The optometrist will also communicate to the doctor how serious it looks and together you'll work out the date for a timely appointment.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:02 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have dozens of the little fuckers. Because of them, a lot of white surfaces bother my eyes, because I'm supposed to see a clean space and all I see is a bunch of smudges and blots that follow my eyes around the room.

The good news is that it's *probably* just a little bastard floater, and not anything serious.

The bad news is that it's probably a little bastard floater.

Anyway, you really need to be seeing an eye doctor, and regularly, not just once. You can't be too careful with your eyes for one thing, and for another, eye health can be a forerunner of your overall physical health (though admittedly it doesn't get much worse than stuff going wrong with your eyes). Go to the eye doctor, make sure it's not something sinister.

I really really wish that there were an eye doctor willing to play asteroids with my floaters. Admittedly it was 15 or 16 years ago that I really got a lot of them, but they said they weren't about to play asteroids with my floaters and the only possible treatment was running my vitreous humour through a strainer and then putting it back in my eye, and that for obvious reasons they weren't about to do that either.

Everyone said "you'll get used to them!" and I knew they were lying. Well, by now, though, I am kinda used to them. They don't bother me half as much nowadays.

At least, they didn't until you went and posted this question and now I'm aware of the little fuckers again.
posted by tel3path at 2:34 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

get your blood pressure checked, just to make sure it isn't a hemorrhage caused by hypertension.
posted by stavrogin at 2:51 AM on February 26, 2013

Optometrists are not doctors. They are ... fancy technicians? who measure your vision so they can prescribe glasses/contacts.

You need a doctor - an opthamologist. Google it, make an appointment, and go.

I'm really shocked that its taken you a couple weeks to be 'vaguely concerned' about this random thing in your field of vision. I'd be concerned right away.
posted by Kololo at 4:09 AM on February 26, 2013

Adding my encouragement to go see a doctor.

Either start with your GP, or see an eyeglass place doctor. If it's serious, you might escalate to a retinal specialist. If it's nothing, your GP or an optometrist will tell you.

Floaters can be a sign of retinal detachment, or not. Flashes of light are a particular warning sign.

How do I know? I'm the internet patron saint of retinal detachment.
posted by jpburns at 5:19 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ophthalmologists do not work at LensCrafters, optometrists do. The former goes to medical school, the latter goes to optometry school.

In the US, a doctor of optometry is a medical doctor who does all the learning a medical doctor does except the surgical part of it. Doctors of optometry can diagnose illness of the eyes and write prescriptions.

Optometrists are not doctors. They are ... fancy technicians? who measure your vision so they can prescribe glasses/contacts.

Are you sure you don't mean optician?
posted by gjc at 5:59 AM on February 26, 2013

Go to an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. The optometrist won't be able to *do anything* about a detached retina or vitreous or whatever, but they will be able to see if something's wrong and refer you to an ophthalmologist.

Also: eye doctor visits are usually quite inexpensive, so don't worry too much about insurance.
posted by mskyle at 6:12 AM on February 26, 2013

A floater which became fixed right in the middle was the symptom my father had which resulted in laser eye surgery (which would be performed by an ophthalmologist).
posted by Rash at 8:03 AM on February 26, 2013

Ophthalmologists do not work at LensCrafters, optometrists do.

Not true. LensCrafters doesn't actually employ the eye doctors, they just work in association with an independently run office, and some of those are run by opthalmologists. An optometrist can certainly provide a first line diagnosis on whether or not there is a concern of retinal detachment. The differences between the two specialities are subtle, but both can provide sophisticated levels of care.
posted by Miko at 9:31 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the US, an optician makes corrective lenses to prescriptions issued by optometrists and ophthalmologists.

An optometrist is a doctor of optometry who can prescribe corrective lenses, and diagnose and treat eye diseases, and may also be certified to conduct some kinds of minor eye surgeries.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD or DO) who specializes in diseases of the eye and conducts all types of eye surgeries.

And yeah, get that floater checked out by an optometrist, who might refer you to an ophthalmologist.
posted by tommyD at 9:33 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

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