Floaters: Out of Mind, Out of Sight

After a particularly challenging day in the Daly City office, I was half-way through a snail-paced commute home to the East Bay, punching through the pre-set FM buttons, praying for a tune that would set my mind free of the miserable traffic.  My prayer was answered when I landed on Live 105 airing an Incubus tune.  As a drummer, I instantaneously recognized and fully appreciated the stylings of their drummer, Jose Pasillas, seamlessly guiding and traveling through 6/4, 11/4, and finally 8/4 time signatures.  Yeah baby.

Jose Pasillas on IG @josepasillasii                         Photo credit:  J Schratter IG @throughjuleslens

Jose Pasillas on IG @josepasillasii                         Photo credit:  J Schratter IG @throughjuleslens

Traffic finally loosened up after I passed the tunnel on Treasure Island and made it onto the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.  I rolled down the windows, and opened the sun roof.  With the wind on my face, I turned up the volume.  NOW, my mind was clearing, that pressure feeling in my shoulders and the back of my neck - dissipating.  Thank you Live 105Thank you Incubus!  Was this song called Out of Sight, Out of Mind, I thought, as the chorus lyrics suggested?  I tagged it with my Shazam app.  I was wrong.  Adolescents.  Thank you Shazam!  

That whole out of sight, out of mind lyric reminded me of what I tell patients who experience vitreous floaters.  You know, those little black spots or lines you see in your peripheral vision.  You try to swat them away as they squiggle out of view when you move your eyes and realize . . . they’re happening inside my eyes.  What the?!

Vitreous floaters against a blue sky

Vitreous floaters against a blue sky

 

The vitreous humor is a gel-like substance that fills the back chamber of the eye.  It’s surrounded by a thin, transparent membrane.  The gel and membrane slowly pull away from the retina over time.  Due to the optics of your eye, little clumpings of the vitreous and the membrane will cast a shadow onto your retina.  The shadow is projected into real space and is perceived to be floating in front of you – especially under certain lighting conditions.

Is there anything you can do about it, Doc?  That’s when I say, Out of Mind, Out of Sight.  Fortunately, our brain treats floaters like background noise.  Just like our sense of hearing, when we free our attention to focus on other things, our brain ignores the floaters, and voila, they disappear from our perception.  It’s one of those takeaways from the Psychology & Perception upper-div course I took at UCSD back in the day.  What we see and what we perceive can be two different things.  Trippy, I know . . . and so was the whole UCSD thing, and so too was the disappearance of a day’s stress and traffic misery by merely listening to a great song.  Thank you brain!  I made it home in one piece, with a clear head, leaving work at work, and enjoying the evening with my wife and kids.  Life really is . . . simply grand!  (That's a whole other story, right Jeff-O?!)

Note from Dr. Gabe:  If you notice new floaters, be sure to call us to come in and have it evaluated.  If you also notice flashes of lights in your peripheral vision and/or loss of vision (like a curtain) in your peripheral vision, you'll need to be seen that same day.  If it's during off hours, then you'll need to proceed to an ER. . . it may be a serious condition - a retinal detachment, hole or tear -  that should be treated right away.