Your health questions answered

Will floaters destroy my sight? Why have I been denied a loan?
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What effect will floaters have on my eyes?

Two doctors and two opticians have told me I have floaters. Everybody seems to disregard them and one doctor said it was due to old age. Can you advise me on possibilities for the future?

Floaters are irritating little specks that drift across the field of vision. They are caused by a drying out of the jelly-like substance (the vitreous humour) that fills the eyeball. Floaters appear when tiny clumps or strands of vitreous cast a shadow on the retina at the back of the eye. The vitreous has a tendency to get thicker with age, and this is why floaters are more common in older people. If you are getting large numbers of floaters, or if you notice flashes of light in your visual field, you do need to get urgent attention from an eye specialist, as these are signs of retinal detachment. For very severe cases, there have been attempts to obliterate them with a laser, but this is not always successful. There is no cure for floaters, but people usually find that they become less troublesome, probably because they unconsciously learn to disregard them.

Can I be refused a mortgage on genetic grounds?

An insurance company has refused to give me a mortgage and critical illness insurance because some members of my family have a genetic condition called myotonic dystrophy. Several years ago I had a genetic test which showed that I do not carry the myotonic dystrophy gene and I will therefore not develop the disease. Are insurance companies allowed to refuse insurance on the basis of genetic illnesses?

Myotonic dystrophy is a type of muscular dystrophy. The condition is caused by a faulty gene that can be passed from parent to child. One of your father's parents must have carried the gene, and they passed it down to both your father and your uncle. Your father then passed the faulty gene down to your sister. You have clearly not inherited the faulty gene, and the genetic test that you had proves this. Unfortunately, insurance companies are allowed to refuse insurance if they think that you are at risk of developing a genetic condition. But in your case, the insurance company has made a mistake, because you can prove that the illness will never affect you. You should write to the chief medical officer of the insurance company and send them a copy of your genetic test result. If you get no joy you should contact the Financial Ombudsman Service: www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk.

Please send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182 or e-mail to health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.

Readers write

TC suggests another cause of unexplained tiredness: I had thought of myself as fit and healthy, when I suddenly stopped functioning. My immune system had taken a bashing over the years as I was someone who was "up for anything". After thinking that I was going to get better soon, I had to take on that I had developed ME. After six years of not working I am on the mend. But I wish I had taken advice earlier.

health@independent.co.uk

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