Have you noticed a white spot on your eye that wasn’t there before? What could possibly be causing it? And should you be concerned?
Eye spots can come in several colors, including white, brown, and red. These spots occur on the actual eye itself and not on your eyelid or the skin surrounding your eyes.
A variety of conditions can cause white spots to form on your eye, including things like corneal ulcers and retinoblastoma. Below, we’ll discuss these conditions, whether they’re harmful, and what symptoms you can look out for.
It’s always good to make an appointment with your eye doctor if you notice any changes in your eyes, such as the appearance of a white spot. Even if they cause minimal symptoms, eye conditions can sometimes go on to affect your vision.
Some symptoms, such as pain or changes in vision can signal an eye emergency. In these cases, you should be sure to see an eye doctor as soon as possible.
So, what do some of these conditions actually look like? Let’s explore some of the various conditions that can cause white spots to appear on your eye.
There are several things that can cause a white spot on your eye. Below, we’ll talk about each possible cause in more detail.
The cornea is the clear outermost part of your eye. It helps to protect your eye from harmful particles and also plays a role in focusing your vision.
A corneal ulcer is an open sore that occurs on your cornea. A white spot on your cornea can be one of the symptoms. Corneal ulcers can threaten your vision and are considered to be an eye emergency. People at risk for corneal ulcers include those who:
- wear contact lenses
- have been exposed to the herpes simplex virus (HSV)
- have experienced an injury to their eye
- have dry eyes
A condition called keratitis precedes the formation of a corneal ulcer. Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea. It’s often caused by an infection, although noninfectious causes, like injury or autoimmune disease, are also possible.
A variety of things can cause a corneal ulcer to form, including:
- bacterial infections caused by organisms like Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- viral infections due to HSV, varicella zoster virus, or cytomegalovirus
- fungal infections, such as those caused by fungi like Aspergillus and Candida
- acanthamoeba infection, which is caused by a parasite found in fresh water and soil
- autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- injury or trauma
- severe dry eyes
Cataracts happen when the lens of your eye gets cloudy. The lens is the part of your eye that focuses light so that the images of what you’re seeing can be projected onto your retina.
Cataracts often progress slowly, but they can start to affect your vision over time. As cataracts worsen, you may notice that the lens of your eye changes to a cloudy whitish or yellowish color.
A variety of things can cause cataracts, including age, other eye conditions, and underlying health conditions like diabetes. You can also be born with cataracts.
Corneal dystrophy is when material builds up on your cornea, affecting your vision. There are many different types of corneal dystrophies. Some of them can cause opaque, cloudy, or gelatinous looking spots to appear on your cornea.
Corneal dystrophies typically progress slowly and can affect both eyes. They’re also often inherited.
Pinguecula and pterygium
Both pinguecula and pterygium are growths that occur on your conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the clear covering over the white part of your eye. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, dry eyes, and exposure to wind or dust cause both of these conditions.
Pinguecula looks like a whitish-yellow bump or spot. It often occurs on the side of your eye that’s closest to your nose. It’s made up of fat, protein, or calcium.
Pterygium has a flesh-like coloration that grows over the cornea. It may start out as a pinguecula and can grow large enough to affect vision.
Coats disease is a rare condition that affects the retina. The retina is the part of your eye that detects light and color, sending that information to your brain via the optic nerve.
In Coats disease, the blood vessels of the retina don’t develop normally. A white mass may be observed in the pupil, particularly when it’s exposed to light.
Coats disease typically only affects one eye. However, in rare cases, it can affect both eyes. The cause of this condition is currently unknown.
Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer that starts on your retina. Genetic mutations in the retina cause retinoblastoma. It’s also possible to inherit these mutations from a parent.
Although retinoblastoma can occur in adults, it more commonly affects children. It can affect just one eye or both eyes. People with retinoblastoma may notice a white-colored circle in the pupil, particularly when light is shined into the eye.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
SCC is a type of skin cancer. It can also affect your conjunctiva. People with this type of cancer may notice a white growth on the surface of their eye.
SCC often only affects one eye. Risk factors for SSC affecting the conjunctiva include exposure to UV radiation, HIV and AIDS, and allergic conjunctivitis.
How can you know what could be causing the white spot on your eye? Check your symptoms with the table below.
|Corneal ulcer||Cataract||Corneal dystrophy||Pinguecula and pterygium||Coats disease||Retinoblastoma||SCC|
|Feeling like you have something in your eye||X||X||X||X|
|Vision changes, such as blurry vision or reduced vision||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Changes in iris color||X|
|Difficulty with night vision or needing brighter light||X|
Treatment for the white spot on your eye can depend on the condition that’s causing it. Some of the possible treatment options include:
Lubricating eye drops can help to reduce irritation or the feeling like something is stuck in your eye. In some cases, eye drops may contain steroids that help with inflammation.
Examples of conditions where eye drops may be used include:
- corneal ulcers
- corneal dystrophies
These medications help fight infections caused by microbes, such as those observed in corneal ulcers. The type you’re prescribed will depend on the microbe causing your infection. Medications can include:
- antibiotics for bacterial infections
- antivirals for viral infections
- antifungal agents for fungal infections
Cryotherapy uses extreme cold to help treat a condition. It can be used to kill cancer cells in retinoblastoma and SCC as well as to destroy abnormal blood vessels in Coats disease.
Lasers can be used for the treatment of retinoblastoma. They work by destroying the blood vessels supplying a tumor. They can also be used to either shrink or destroy the abnormal blood vessels observed in Coats disease.
- Ulcer or dystrophy. If a corneal ulcer or corneal dystrophy has damaged your cornea, you may receive a corneal transplant. This surgery replaces your damaged cornea with a cornea from a healthy donor. Removing the damaged parts of the cornea can treat some corneal dystrophies. This can allow healthy tissue to regrow in the area. However, in some cases, the condition may reoccur.
- Cataracts. Cataracts can also be treated with surgery. During this procedure, the clouded lens is removed and replaced with an artificial one.
- Smaller tumors. Some smaller tumors on the surface of the eye, such as those observed in SSC, may be removed by surgery. Larger pterygium can also be treated in this way.
- Large tumors. In cases where a tumor is large or there’s concern about the cancer spreading, the eye may be surgically removed. Following this surgery, an eye implant and artificial eye can be placed.
If you have a condition like retinoblastoma or SCC, your doctor may recommend treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
If you notice a change in your eyes that’s worrying, make an appointment with your eye doctor. They can evaluate your condition and help determine what may be causing it.
Depending on the cause of your white spot, they may refer you to an ophthalmologist. This is a type of eye doctor that can perform surgeries and treat more serious eye conditions.
It’s important to remember that the following situations need to be assessed and treated as soon as possible:
- You’ve had a sudden loss of vision or change in vision.
- You’ve sustained an injury or scratch to your eye.
- You have eye pain or redness that’s unexplained.
- Nausea and vomiting are occurring along with eye pain.
- You’re concerned about an object or irritant that’s gotten into your eye.
There are many conditions that can cause a white spot to appear on your eye. While some may be less serious, others, such as corneal ulcers, are an emergency.
It’s always a good rule of thumb to see your eye doctor if you have changes in your eyes, such as a white spot. They’ll work with you to diagnose the condition and come up with an appropriate treatment plan.