Symptoms and psychological experiences of patients who seek consultation for extensive floaters (Degenerative Vitreous Syndrome, DVS)

Kalen Swanson, MSW
Retired Psychotherapist, Recovered DVS patient
Robert E. Morris, MD

 

  • Almost all DVS patients report problems with driving a car.
  • Some DVS patients feel anxious and hypervigilant trying to see around or through the opacities in their vision and feel that driving safety may be compromised.
  • Some need a passenger to read road signs, addresses etc., decreasing the patient’s independence
  • Others discontinue driving at night or altogether, becoming dependent.
  • Almost all DVS patients report stress and a sense of loss related to their driving impairment. 
  • Almost all DVS patients report that reading is slow and laborious, whether they are reading print or computer screens, because of the opacities.
  • Difficulty reading impairs work performance and success. They often cannot keep up with colleagues during real time activities and in conferences.
  • Day-to-day activities such as reading a label become challenging.
  • The experience of reading for pleasure is greatly diminished, if not impossible.
  • Trying to read becomes fatiguing.
  • Not only does a patient feel stressed trying to read, but they also become anxious regarding the professional outcome of changed reading abilities.
  • DVS Patients frequently report the development of odd habits to try to see around the opacities.
  • Excessive blinking, unusual eye movements and atypical head positioning (causing muscle tension) are noted.
  • Patients become concerned that these behaviors effect their social and professional interactions causing them more stress.
  • DVS sufferers describe frequent difficulty recognizing facial features even closeup, creating awkward social interactions.
  • Some DVS patients become more isolated leading to loss of much needed support.

The tension, stress, fatigue, and losses of DVS contribute to sleep disturbances for many of these patients, even though sleep is their only respite from 24/7 DVS symptoms. Sleep deprivation impacts health and a patient’s ability to cope with the ever-present moving objects in their central and peripheral vision.

Opacities also effect various day-to-day activities particular to specific individuals. These may include reading and playing music, tying a lure knot, target accuracy, painting, woodworking etc. – some report difficulty watching television or sports. Artists notice a ‘graying’ haze with reduced ability to appreciate color hues or gradations. This affect can be pronounced enough to mask the color of stop lights when driving.

Unfortunately, when DVS patients seek medical advice, they are often given discouraging information. Sometimes it is that nothing can be done, or nothing should be done, or corrective surgery is too dangerous.

They are told that they will get used to these “floaters” suggesting “floaters” need not influence the quality of their life. Patients’ experiences are commonly discounted, perhaps because their tested visual acuity remains intact. But this is not the same as functional visual acuity for daily visual activities (DVA) that has typically already deteriorated.

When a consult with their medical professional is disappointing it further contributes to stress, helplessness and hopelessness regarding their vision and quality of life.

Hopelessness, helplessness, stress, fatigue, frustration, loss of self-esteem and confidence, muscle tension, headaches, sleep disturbance are all significant symptoms of depression and anxiety in these patients, caused by their attempts to adjust to a situation that usually can and should be corrected.

DVS Patients become hopeful when they hear of a possible surgical correction, sometimes after suffering from such symptoms for many years. Soon after surgery to remove DVS opacities, most patients report an almost immediate return of clear vision and are quickly able to return to their normal level of functioning.

For these patients, vitrectomy is a quick and permanent solution for symptoms of depression and anxiety. And patients report feeling elated to be able to return to their premorbid lifestyle.

All patients were treated at Retina Specialists of Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama, USA. RSA is pleased to assist the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education in providing this informational website.

Vitreoretinal surgeons treating Degenerative Vitreous Syndrome (DVS or extensive floaters) at RSA include Drs. Robert Morris, Mathew Sapp, Matthew Oltmanns, and Matthew West.

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