This HealthDay story does a good job discussing this study for laser treatment of “eye floaters,” taking care to mention important limitations of the research. The story would have been stronger if it had discussed the potential cost of this treatment, and if it would be widely available from most eye doctors, or require specialists.
Floaters tend to plague the eyesight of many people as they age and while for some, they are merely a nuisance, for some others they decrease their quality of life. A new treatment that might alleviate the problem would be an important improvement for those affected. However, the risks and expense of the treatment must be taken into account when deciding to treat a benign disorder. This story ideally would have discussed those points more thoroughly.
There is no mention of costs for this procedure in this story. Nor is there any indication whether most health insurance plans would cover such procedures. A quick search on the web suggests that the costs may run from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars per eye, with no assurance that multiple treatments might not be required, raising the costs even more.
The story does quantify the benefits of the procedure in question, saying, “Six months after treatment, 54 percent of patients in the YAG group reported significantly greater improvement in floater-related visual disturbances, compared with only 9 percent of those in the placebo group.” It goes on saying, “Nineteen patients (53 percent) in the YAG group reported significantly or completely improved symptoms, compared with none of the patients in the placebo group.”
The story addresses harms by saying, “There were no differences between the two groups in harmful side effects, according to the study.”
But that’s not enough–What are the potential risks? The small size of the study (52 patients) makes it hard to exclude the possibility of side effects. As with any new surgery, doctors will have to learn how to do the procedure. Would you want to be an eye doctor’s first patient to get the new procedure?
The story explains that this was a randomized clinical trial at a single research center that compared a group of patients receiving the actual laser treatments against a smaller group receiving a “sham” treatment, or placebo. The story goes farther by saying that it was a small study — only 52 patients — and a short follow-up of only six months. It also adds that, “”Greater confidence in these outcomes may result from larger confirmatory studies of longer duration,” the study authors wrote.”
This is a strong point of the story.
The story hints that many people don’t need treatment: “Floaters become more common with age, and although some people simply get used to them, others are bothered by them or their vision is impaired.”
However, the story should have been stronger on this point–visual floaters are so common that they can be considered normal and the majority of people don’t do anything about them.
The news release, which we also reviewed, noted that “most” people get used to them, in all but the most serious cases. We think the story should have been stronger on this point, too.
The story does quote an independent source in the story, rather than relying on the study’s authors. It does not, however, provide any information relating to possible conflicts of interest. For example, the study was funded by a large ophthalmology clinic where this procedure is presumably performed — and which might stand to gain more business if it’s proven to work effectively.
The story makes clear that there are alternatives to the YAG laser treatments: “There are three management options for floaters: patient education and observation; surgery; and a laser procedure known as YAG vitreolysis.” Some discussion of the effectiveness of surgery and education would have been useful, however.
The story doesn’t discuss the availability of this laser treatment approach. Is it available through most ophthalmic practices? Is the equipment standard in most eye hospitals?
The story suggests that this is a possible newer approach to dealing with bothersome “floaters” in the eye, and an alternative to eye surgery.
There is no indication that this story relies on the news release.