"I cured my floaters": Floater success stories and what we can learn from them

Finlay Yates

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If you experience floaters, the dark squiggly shapes that float around your vision, you might have wondered how to get rid of them. The internet hosts hundreds of tales of different mixtures of vitamins, fruits, drugs, or life style changes that may have helped somebody somewhere cure their floaters. We took a look at some of these claims alongside the latest research to see if any of them are backed by science.

Introduction

You might remember the first time you noticed floaters in your vision. The next thought that followed was probably something like “How do I get rid of them?”


There are a lot of stories on the internet of those who have done just that, or at least found ways to reduce their impact. r/EyeFloaters, the sub-reddit for all things floaters, frequently receives posts like these. You might have seen them in your search for a cure, or maybe you even post on the page.


We’ve gone through some of the most popular success stories, analysing their specific methods of curing floaters, to determine if they are backed up by science and therefore if they will work for you?

What are Floaters?

Floaters are dark shapes that move with your vision and are most noticeable in front of bright backgrounds. They are described as a variety of different stringy, splodgy, dark, feint, or cob-web like shapes, and are formed by opaque objects being present in the vitreous, a transparent gel filling your eye. 


Although they are harmless, they are linked to lower quality of life and reduced contrast sensitivity. One study on people who suffer from floaters even found that participants would trade 11% of their lifespan if that meant living without floaters. Furthermore, floaters may be a growing concern, with a study on young phone users finding that 76% of participants notice floaters.


Floaters are thought to form due to degeneration of the vitreous, a gel-like substance filling the eye.


On top of vitreous degeneration, an age-related process called posterior vitreo-retinal detachment - when the vitreous detaches from the retina at the back of the eye - exacerbates floaters by revealing an extra dense collagen network on the back of the vitreous. This is usually more common in the elderly, but vitreo-retinal detachment is becoming more frequent in younger generations.


The Causes of Floaters

The main cause of floaters are opaque clumps of protein which form in the vitreous as it degrades. A matrix of collagen (a fibrous protein) and hyaluronan (a fibrous carbohydrate) support the vitreous, giving it its gel-like consistency. If collagen and hyaluronan dissociate, collagen fibres stick together, or aggregate. Collagen aggregates are generally what we see as floaters, blocking the light that passes through the pupil from reaching the retina. Since the collagen-hyaluronan matrix is disrupted in this process, this also creates regions of liquified vitreous, contributing to the degeneration of the vitreous.


There are other causes of floaters which are rarer, such as bleeding in the eye (haemorrhaging) or the presence of cells (e.g. during infection). These floaters usually appear more suddenly, whereas the long-term floaters which are more common are primarily attributed to collagen aggregation.


So what’s the underlying chemistry of collagen aggregation? One of the main causes is oxidative stress, where highly reactive chemicals called reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced as a by-product of energy generation in mitochondria get out of control and start reacting with important cellular components like DNA, membranes, and protein.


ROS production by mitochondria can increase in response to diet, drug consumption, and mental health, but can also be formed due to UV and pollutant exposure independent of mitochondria. ROS are thought to react with collagen and hyaluronan, causing their dissociation and floater formation. This is based on the observation that oxidative stress is associated with vitreous degeneration, but no direct causal link between oxidative stress and eye floaters has been studied in vivo.


Antioxidants typically keep ROS under control, and the vitreous contains an array of different antioxidants. However, the antioxidant capacity of the vitreous decreases with age. Combined with the accumulation of light-induced ROS, the vitreous gradually degrades over a lifetime. The imbalance between antioxidants and ROS production could be a cause of eye floaters.


Oxidation can be exacerbated by a process called glycation, where sugar molecules react with proteins. This includes collagen, and in the vitreous, this could lead to dissociation from hyaluronan and therefore vitreous degeneration. Glycation and oxidative stress promote each other in a positive feedback loop called glycoxidation, which could theoretically accelerate floater formation


Oxidative stress and glycation cannot be attributed to any one lifestyle habit or choice and so trying to target these processes to cure floaters is by no means a straightforward task. Have some Reddit users cracked it? Let’s take a look at what they suggest.

A Deeper Dive into "Success" Claims

Before continuing, it’s worth mentioning that these are personal anecdotes from users online and so are not medical advice. Whilst we’ll be examining their claims alongside scientific evidence, this still doesn’t mean their stories will match everybody else’s.

Nutrition

Many Reddit users have anecdotes of incorporating certain foods or nutrients into their diets that completely cured their floaters. The magic ingredients include different vitamins, antioxidants, plant extracts, magnesium, turmeric, pineapple, and more, as well as particular mixtures thereof. There are very few studies directly investigating links between these foods and their supposed effect on floaters, but we can try to examine the existing evidence.


Some users claim certain dieting habits such as keto and intermittent fasting have reduced their floaters, although there is no evidence to directly support these. Benefits of a keto diet, which limits carbohydrate intake, include lower blood glucose and ROS production, both of which reduce glycoxidation, potentially protecting against floaters. Intermittent fasting, a diet with long periods without consuming calories, also helps control oxidative stress and has been shown to decrease the risk of some eye conditions


Dietary changes should be gradual to allow the body to adjust to change - suddenly cutting out all carbohydrates for example, can lead to ‘keto flu’.


Most claims refer to specific nutrients. For example, magnesium was claimed by one user to have cured their floaters overnight. Magnesium is required for the synthesis of glutathione, an antioxidant present in the vitreous that protects against oxidative stress and therefore may slow vitreous degeneration. However, studies on magnesium supplementation show no significant change in protection against oxidative stress


Magnesium is important for the coordination of the nervous system, and magnesium deficiency can lead to twitching eyes as eye muscle contraction is poorly controlled. This could lead to tiredness and irritation that make floaters more noticeable. 


Magnesium deficiency has also been linked to anxiety in mice. According to several studies, magnesium shows potential in reducing stress. Since stress can make floaters more noticeable, incorporating magnesium into your diet might make floaters less noticeable, especially if you have a magnesium deficiency. 


However, supplementation is probably unnecessary. Magnesium is fairly abundant and common in a balanced diet, but if it’s something you’re worried about, fibrous foods such as leafy vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts are high in magnesium.


Turmeric is quite a popular choice of miracle medicine even outside of the treatment of eye floaters, with hundreds of studies on curcumin, the main bioactive ingredient of turmeric, supporting the claim it has medicinal properties. However, few of these have proven a significant benefit to consuming curcumin in early drug trials, probably because curcumin is not very stable and is poorly absorbed by the body. 


There are some studies showing the potential for curcumin to act as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound that could hypothetically protect against oxidative damage to collagen in the vitreous, and therefore prevent floaters. However, even with these studies, there’s no guarantee curcumin would target the vitreous and have any effect on floaters. Furthermore, consuming high quantities of curcumin (e.g. in curcumin supplements) could be toxic, or interact problematically with other drugs


Turmeric itself, however, is perfectly safe and only contains 3% curcumin alongside many other bioactive compounds that could be beneficial to your health - the link between these and eye floaters remains unexplored. There are no significant health risks associated with supplementing your diet with turmeric, but no real reason to believe they will help with your floaters.


Some people claim pineapple has cured their floaters, with their experience backed by a couple of scientific papers, the first of which was a Taiwanese study where participants were fed different quantities of pineapple and reported their floaters decreased in correlation with the amount of pineapple consumed. The authors suggested bromelain, an enzyme in pineapple which digests protein, made its way to the vitreous and broke down floaters into tiny fragments so they were no longer visible. 


However, the paper showed cause for suspicion: poorly written, claims lazily cited, didn’t use a control group, published in a journal that isn’t peer reviewed - if you post about pineapple today on r/EyeFloaters, you’ll get an automated message reminding users that the pineapple study isn’t to be trusted.


However, a more recent study found that a supplement containing bromelain, as well as the protein-digesting enzymes papain (from papaya) and ficin (from figs) could reduce floaters. This study was peer-reviewed, had a control group, and measured floaters in participants by both questionnaires and eye-imaging techniques - 93% of participants were satisfied with mixed fruit enzymes as a treatment for floaters. This is promising but the link is still in its early days of study - it remains unclear how mixed fruit enzymes might be absorbed in the digestive system, since most proteins are broken down and instead absorbed as amino acids, the building blocks of protein. 


Even if they are absorbed, there’s no guarantee they’d reach the vitreous, since the blood-brain barrier filters out larger molecules such as enzymes from reaching the eye. Right now, there’s very little evidence to believe eating pineapple will result in your floaters disappearing.


An array of vitamins and antioxidants have also been claimed to cure floaters. Generally, these are antioxidants that are present in the vitreous or vitamins that are essential for antioxidant formation, in both cases the antioxidant is presumed to decrease oxidative stress, protecting against vitreous degeneration and floater formation. 


Vitamin B2, for example, is a precursor for flavins, as well as being essential for glutathione production. Glutathione and flavins are both important antioxidants in the vitreous. Vitamin C is a common component of these success stories, and vitamin C itself is an antioxidant. There are no direct studies on vitamin C or B2’s effect on floaters, but lowered vitamin C is correlated with increased vitreous degeneration, and studies show that vitamin C consumed in diet is transported to the vitreous.


The only study that directly assesses if any of these compounds can affect floaters was a recent study where participants received a supplement containing antioxidants including vitamin C, zinc, lysine, grape extract (containing antioxidants like proanthocyanidin) and seville orange extract (containing antioxidants like hesperidin). Questionnaires and eye imaging techniques showed a significant decrease in floaters. 


This study was limited in scope, only looking at 62 eyes, and does not determine which component(s) of the supplement made the most impact. Since oxidative damage to the vitreous is irreversible, it remains a question how antioxidants, which can only prevent oxidative stress, could remove floaters. Nevertheless, antioxidants are beneficial to your general health and likely protect against vitreous degeneration.

Exercise

Some people have claimed that incorporating exercise into their daily routine has reduced their floaters. Whilst exercise causes an increase in ROS production in the short term, studies have shown habitual exercise builds up antioxidants to protect against these ROS, increasing general protection against oxidative stress, even when not exercising. 


This includes an increase in vitamin C and superoxide dismutase, both antioxidants present in the vitreous, but without a direct study on exercise’s effect on vitreous antioxidants, it cannot be concluded whether exercise protects against oxidative damage to the vitreous and therefore floater formation.


Exercise has been shown, however, to release endorphins which improve mood and make you less stressed. Since stress, anxiety and irritation could increase sensitivity to floaters, routinely exercising might make floaters less noticeable for you.

Heat Treatment

A peculiar claim is that heating your eyes, whether by putting your face in hot water or using a sauna, could remove floaters by changing the viscosity of the vitreous so large floaters break down and reorganise. Simply put, there is no evidence for mild heat having an effect on the vitreous, let alone on floaters. However, if this sounds like something you’d find relaxing, it might be worth trying to help you destress, decreasing sensitivity to floaters.

Atropine

Low concentration (0.01%) atropine eye drops are a very popular treatment for floaters prescribed by ophthalmologists in countries such as the USA. Unlike other claimed successful treatments, atropine does not directly target floaters


Atropine is a muscle relaxant that has been shown to increase pupil dilation at 0.01% or above. Studies on optics have suggested a wider pupil makes floaters more diffuse and less dark in colour, and so less noticeable, explaining how atropine has become so popular. However, studies on daily atropine use show some side effects such as mild irritation and increased sensitivity to bright light,,


Although atropine can be addictive at higher concentrations, these studies were done over multiple years and found no long-term negative effects of low concentration atropine. However, atropine is not currently available worldwide, so you should check your country’s policy on prescribing atropine.

Acceptance

By far the most popular posts on the r/EyeFloater reddit page are those by people who have learnt to live with floaters, and by doing so now barely notice floaters. These stories talk of the intense time and focus that people who suffer from floaters put into their floaters, and how by making an active effort to ignore floaters, to put them to the back of your mind and focus on something else whenever you do notice them, they became less detrimental even when they were noticed. 


Indeed, many of the success stories we’ve looked at so far have included behaviours that reduce stress, whether that be regular exercise or relaxing with a hot sauna. Atropine only makes floaters less noticeable; it doesn’t get rid of them. 


Questionnaires on people suffering from floaters show they tend to be anxious and obsessed with their eye health, with only perfection being good enough. A hyper-focus on finding floaters can only make them more noticeable, but noticing floaters then increases worry about floaters, so they become even more noticeable. It’s a vicious cycle. However, steps can be taken towards managing overall stress and anxiety levels that will make this kind of behaviour more manageable:


  • Regular exercise, as previously stated, as well as other calming activities such as meditation, release relaxing neurotransmitters such as endorphins. They reduce stress and improve mood. When distracted by a positive feeling, it’s harder for floaters to get you down.

  • Social interaction has also shown to decrease stress. Talk to friends and family about how you feel, or simply spend time with them doing something fun. Talking to a mental health expert could provide you with techniques to manage your relationship with floaters.

  • Stimulant drugs will increase your sensitivity and anxiousness, so stop taking things like caffeine, nicotine and cocaine.

Conclusion

Floaters are an entirely manageable part of your eyesight and aren’t dangerous to your health, even if they can seem to ruin your life. In search of reassurance and advice from similarly afflicted individuals, Reddit forums on floaters can often become negative echo chambers, where many feel helpless and wonder what they did to deserve floaters. In this environment, it’s easy to get drawn into the success stories of those who “got out” - who cured their floaters. 


The truth is that floaters are probably incredibly common and it’s your relationship with floaters that determines whether they have a negative impact on your life. Whilst there are some early and promising studies suggesting that incorporating vitamin C, zinc, lysine, and different antioxidants into your diet could combat floaters, the data is very limited, and supplements can be expensive. Managing your mental health may have just as much effect on your experience with floaters. 


Of course, none of this is easy, especially since those experiencing floaters might be in a vicious cycle of floater-induced-worry with worry making floaters more noticeable. Putting in the effort to break the cycle by exercising, meditating, spending more time with friends or doing things you enjoy, and maintaining a balanced diet, will improve your overall physical and mental health, and maybe, they might even cure your floaters.

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