Opinion: Keeping an eye on floaters


My wife noticed that I was continually swatting at flying bugs in the house. I told her that this one little black gnat had been bothering me for several days, but that every time I took a whack at it, it disappeared.

“Those are not insects,” Mary Ellen said. “You probably have floaters.”

“What’s a floater?” I asked. I always thought a floater was a dead body the police found in the river.

Mary Ellen explained to me that floaters are a common eye disorder that causes tiny specks to drift around the field of vision. Then she realized why, for the last several weeks, I was always waving at her while we were watching TV.  

During the past few weeks, the little gnat and I had developed a closer relationship, and with proper eye-roll and head tilt, I could sometimes control exactly when and where Skipper would appear (yes, I named him). He still makes unannounced visits, like right now as I’m typing this.  He’s kind of driving me crazy.

Skipper had disappeared for a few days and I was happy about that, but then this morning he returned with a little friend—a squiggly line underneath him—who follows him around wherever he goes. He was doing a great job driving me nuts on his own. I’m not sure why he needed a partner. I Googled the term “floaters” and was surprised to see how many websites were devoted to this issue.  It said the problem had something to do with a part of the eye called the vitreous humor. I could also use a vitreous sarcasm and a vitreous exaggerator to help me finish writing this column.

One site suggested this home remedy for floaters:

1. Sit in a chair.

2Rub your hands together to produce some heat.

3Place the palms of your hands over each eye.

My wife walked in as I was completing step No. 3, and she thought I wanted to play hide-and-seek.

Most of the websites said there isn’t much you can do about floaters, but there was one that recommended a dietary fix. It’s a regimen that requires consuming large amounts of citrus fruit like lemons, limes and oranges for 10 straight days. I tried that for almost two weeks. The bad news is, it didn’t work on eliminating my floaters. The good news is, I have no signs of scurvy.

If past columns are any indication, many readers will email me with medical advice. Please don’t. I have talked to my ophthalmologist, Dr. Keener,  who convinced me there is nothing to worry about—it’s just part of aging. I gave my brother in New York a call to see if he had any experience with this condition.

“I don’t know what you mean by a floater,” he said, also unaware of the disorder. “But before we hang up, I was wondering if you guys in Indiana also have houseflies in the winter?”