Gray spots in your eye may be harmless, due to age or injury. But they can also be a sign of a more serious condition, including the start of cancer.

You might sometimes expect redness or irritation in your eyes. But a gray spot can be more worrisome.

This article will explore some possible reasons you might develop a dark mark or gray spot in the white part of your eye.

A dark area or gray spot in the white of your eye can develop for several reasons. These spots can be congenital — meaning they were genetically programmed before you were born — or they can develop for many other reasons.

Some of the most common conditions that can cause a gray spot to develop in the white of your eye are:

  • corneal ulcers or keratitis
  • senile scleral plaques
  • argyrosis, which can occur when people self-administer silver-containing eyedrops to comfort their eyes, and over time parts of the sclera can turn gray
  • oculodermal melanocytosis (nevus of Ota)
  • amelanotic conjunctival nevus
  • spheroidal degeneration
  • congenital ocular melanocytosis

What does the white part of your eye do?

The white part of your eye is called the sclera. It’s made of collagen fibers to create a tough, fibrous that provides structure and support for your eye.

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Many of the conditions that can cause a gray spot in the white of your eye or on your eyelid are caused by issues like:

The clear cornea covers the front of the eye, and the rest is covered with white sclera. Gray spots can occur in the cornea, often signaling a serious inflammation known as keratitis.

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There are also a few conditions that can increase your risk of developing keratitis or corneal ulcers. These include:

Gray spots in your eyes can also appear after a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection.

Scarring from a corneal ulcer interferes with corneal transparency, leaving a grayish spot that may resolve over time or remain permanently.

Gray spots may appear in the moist conjunctiva, which covers the white part of the eye and inner eyelid surfaces. Although the pigment in many of these spots is brown melanin, the optics of reflective light can alter the perceived color from brown to blue to gray, depending on how deep the spot is.

Complexion-associated melanosis, a noncancerous condition more common in people with darker skin tones, can appear in both eyes. Nevi (a mark similar to a mole or freckle) can appear in the conjunctiva. Other pigmented patches that arise later in life may be a sign of conjunctival melanoma.

No one knows the exact cause of these spots, but experts believe they arise from genetic mutations and environmental factors.

Another cause is a pigmented tumor inside the eye (uveal melanoma) that may extend onto the surface of the eyeball and create a spot on the eye.

If you develop a gray spot in your eye, an area of discoloration might not be your only symptom. Especially when corneal ulcers or keratitis are the cause, you might notice additional symptoms, such as:

Melanocytosis often doesn’t appear with other eye symptoms or even symptoms in other parts of the body. Some people with this condition may develop moles, freckles, or other skin discoloration in other areas.

When to seek medical care for a diagnosis

It’s nearly impossible for you to determine whether a gray area in your eye is a harmless discoloration or a serious problem. If you develop gray or darkened areas in the white part of your eye, you should make an appointment with an eye doctor or a primary care provider.

To make an accurate diagnosis, you will probably need to see an ophthalmologist, who will examine your eye under a special microscope. A healthcare professional might also recommend different scans or imaging studies, or even a biopsy of the tissue in your eye.

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If the gray area in your eye was caused by an infection, you may notice some improvement once the infection has cleared.

In many cases, however, gray areas that are not causing damage to your vision or your eye health are left untreated.

Don’t use any products in your eye that may promise to whiten or clear dark areas without talking with a healthcare professional first.

Treatment depends on the cause of the darkened area in your eye, but most of the time, gray spots caused by age, infection, and even trauma are left untreated to avoid additional damage to your eye.

When these gray spots develop due to a more malignant condition that could lead to more severe cancer growth or spread, surgical procedures and topical anticancer therapy might be options. Laser therapies have been used for cosmetic correction, but these treatments are usually reserved for more progressive conditions that cause dark spots.

Conditions like uveal melanoma can be fatal and lead to metastasis, or the spread of cancer to other areas of the body.

Your healthcare team can help guide you on the most appropriate therapies and procedures if the gray spot in your eye is caused by cancer.

Gray spots in your eye can represent a wide range of seriousness. Some gray spots are harmless and develop with age or even injury. In some cases, though, gray spots in your eye can be a sign of a more serious condition, including those that lead to cancer.

Any discoloration in the white area of your eye is reason enough to make an appointment with your eye doctor or primary care team.