Asteroid hyalosis causes, symptoms and treatments
Asteroid hyalosis is a degenerative eye condition named for its resemblance to stars in the night sky. It causes small light-colored spots to appear in the eye’s vitreous humor, though it doesn't usually lead to vision problems. About 1% of patients in their 50s and older have asteroid hyalosis.
This guide will cover asteroid hyalosis symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options and why it's important to see your eye doctor for regular eye exams.
Asteroid hyalosis and the eye
Asteroid hyalosis causes white or yellowish-white deposits of calcium and fats in the vitreous humor of the eye. The vitreous humor is the gel-like part of the eye that sits behind the lens and in front of the retina. This watery substance makes up about 80% of the eyeball.
The vitreous humor has many functions in the eye, including:
Acting as a "shock absorber" for the eye
Giving the eyeball its shape
Permitting oxygen and nutrients to pass from the front of the eye to the back of the eye
Asteroid hyalosis usually occurs in one eye, but it can occur in both. Your eye doctor will be able to see whitish opaque particles floating in your eye or eyes during a routine eye exam.
Asteroid hyalosis symptoms
Asteroid hyalosis often causes no symptoms at all. A patient may not know they have the condition until their eye doctor spots it during ophthalmoscopy, a procedure during an eye exam that uses lenses and lights to look into the back of the eyes.
Rarely, a patient will go to the eye doctor because they have asteroid hyalosis symptoms such as:
Decreased visual sharpness
There are many conditions other than asteroid hyalosis that can cause these symptoms. For example, eye floaters can be caused by retinal detachment, which can lead to vision loss and must be treated right away. It's important to see your eye doctor if you have any symptoms that affect your vision.
Asteroid hyalosis causes
Doctors are not sure what causes asteroid hyalosis, but they know the risk increases as you age. It typically affects patients aged 55 and older, and men are twice as likely as women to develop the condition.
Some studies suggest a link between asteroid hyalosis and other health issues, such as:
Excess alcohol consumption
High blood pressure
Higher body mass index
History of gout
However, other studies have found no significant link between asteroid hyalosis and any of these risk factors. More research is needed on the cause of asteroid hyalosis.
How is decreased vision from asteroid hyalosis treated?
In most cases, asteroid hyalosis causes no vision problems and requires no treatment. But in rare situations, a vitrectomy — a procedure to remove the vitreous humor — may be needed for treatment if the condition:
Causes decreased vision
Interferes with diagnosis and treatment of a serious eye problem such as diabetic retinopathy
In a vitrectomy, a surgeon makes a few tiny incisions in the eye, suctions out the vitreous humor, and replaces it with a saline solution. Also removed during the procedure are the deposits of calcium and fat associated with asteroid hyalosis.
Note: A vitrectomy is an extremely delicate procedure that usually requires general anesthesia. It is not typically used to treat ordinary floaters or other minor vision problems.
Regular eye exams for asteroid hyalosis
It's important to see your eye doctor for regular comprehensive eye exams so you can keep your eyes healthy and your vision prescription current. This also ensures any issues are detected and treated as early as possible.
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Asteroid hyalosis. Columbia University Department of Ophthalmology. Accessed August 2021.
Asteroid hyalosis (AH). American Academy of Ophthalmology. March 2021.
Page published in October 2021
Page updated in November 2021
Medically reviewed in September 2021