When your job involves researching ophthalmic topics, interviewing ophthalmologists and writing articles about the profession, you’re often called to drill down deeply into such topics as protocols for treating severe non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, ways to approach LASIK enhancements or the latest variations of the Yamane suturing technique. However, when you come up for air and attend a social event with family and friends, and someone learns what you do for a living, they almost always immediately ask, “So what are they doing for eye floaters? Mine are driving me nuts!”
These little, innocuous aberrations which, for the longest time, were just viewed as something a patient has to live with, can actually have an oversized impact on a person’s life. A recent article by researchers in Canada published in BMC Ophthalmology reported that, of 6,590 primary eye-related visits to general emergency services, 687 (10.4 percent) involved symptoms of flashes and/or floaters. Ophthalmology emergency services needed to be consulted for flashes and/or floaters in 89 percent of cases (608/687).1 The researchers noted that patients who consulted ophthalmology emergency services waited a total of 1,345 hours in general emergency services and accounted for $81,879.70 CAD in costs.
“In the current framework of care,” the authors wrote, “patients presenting with flashes and/or floaters in general emergency service settings can contribute to service volume, consume health-care resources and spend significant time waiting before their contact with an eye-care provider ... .”
In recent years, no doubt as instrumentation and experience have gotten better, retina specialists have taken notice of how much of a problem floaters can be for some patients, and some have begun treating them.
As mentioned in our News section this month, in the most recent Preferences and Trends Survey by the American Society of Retina Specialists, 49 percent of retina specialists perform one to three vitreous-opacity surgeries each month, and 4.2 percent perform four to six. Of course, these surgeries aren’t performed on every patient with an opacity, just ones that meet certain criteria, and patients are informed of the risks inherent to the procedure. Even so, for someone who’s been an interested observer of ophthalmology for decades, it’s interesting to see such a change in attitude.
In the grand scheme of retina therapy, floaters may be a side note; but, to some patients, they can fill volumes. Kudos to retina specialists for recognizing that.
— Walter Bethke
Editor in Chief
1. Shen C, Liu A, Farrokhyar F, et al. The burden of flashes and floaters in traditional general emergency services and utilization of ophthalmology on-call consultation: A cross-sectional study. BMC Ophthalmol 2022;22:394.
2. Poster presentation: 2022 ASRS PAT Survey. American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting. Chicago, 2022.