Noticeable changes in your vision should always be taken seriously. If a clear field of vision is suddenly littered with spots or a variety of shapes, you should consult your eye doctor immediately.
In some cases, the spots could be harmless and a symptom of age, but there are times when these are symptoms of more dangerous conditions and you must seek medical treatment as quickly as possible. The difference between harmless and dangerous could be subtle, but it’s important for you to be able to distinguish between the two.
Here are common causes of spots and colored spots to help you learn which conditions require immediate treatment.
If you are seeing spots, strands, rings or cobweb-like structures in your eye, they may be floaters. They are so named because they move around and tend to shift as you try to focus on them.
What causes eye floaters?
They are usually age-related, occurring between the ages of 50 and 75. Floaters are caused when the vitreous, the gel-like substance that makes up most of the eye, becomes more liquid, stringy and clumps together. These strings or clumps float around in the vitreous and cast a small shadow on the retina. They are also more likely to occur if you are nearsighted, diabetic or have had retinal trauma.
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), floaters are usually just an annoyance. Although they don’t ever go away completely, they eventually settle at the bottom of the eye below the sightline and become less of a bother.
How to get rid of eye floaters
If floaters are only a mild annoyance, there’s usually no treatment needed. However, if they are frequent and distracting, talk to your eye doctor about your options. There’s a surgical treatment called a vitrectomy that’s performed by a retinal specialist. This procedure removes the vitreous along with the floaters and replaces it with saline. As with all surgeries, there are potential risks associated with this operation, including retinal detachment, so your doctor may not recommend it. Laser is another option, but, it too comes with the risk of damage to the eye.
If you notice flashes along with seeing spots, it could be a detached retina which is a dangerous condition that requires treatment from an eye doctor immediately.
Retinal detachment symptoms
The NEI (National Eye Institute) says that there could be a gradual or sudden increase in the number of floaters that are accompanied by flashes. Other symptoms of a detached retina include blurred vision, a shadow that covers the field of vision and a gradual loss of peripheral vision.
Detached retina treatment
Treatment is surgical and could require a vitrectomy. In this case, the vitreous is removed and often the eye is filled with a gas or oil that pushes the retina against the wall of the eye. During the healing process, the gas dissipates, and the eye will produce fluid to take the place of the gas.
A procedure called pneumatic retinopexy can also be used. Other surgical procedures such as indenting the surface of the eye, and draining and removing fluid in the eye are also options.
In these treatments and others, laser or cryopexy is often used to reattach, or “tack” the retina back into place.
A sensory disturbance that accompanies a migraine, known as an aura, can make it seem like you are seeing colored spots or floaters, but they sometimes precede or occur alongside a migraine; however, auras can also be present without a headache.
Migraine aura symptoms
Usually, the visual symptoms of a migraine with aura don’t last long, but you could experience:
- A kaleidoscope-like pattern of colored spots
- Light flashes
- Blind spots
- Other patterns, such as zig-zags
These symptoms could happen in both eyes, which could interfere with certain activities like driving. The American Migraine Foundation also lists disruptions in motor skills and speech as possible symptoms of an ocular migraine.
Only 25 to 30 percent of people with migraines experience auras with their migraines, and less than 20 percent experience the visual disruption of auras with every migraine headache.
If the aura symptoms, which are usually intense and include diminished vision or temporary blindness (lasting up to an hour), only occur in one eye, you may be experiencing a retinal migraine. Because the cause of this type of migraine is a problem with the retina itself, such as diminished blood flow, it could cause permanent blindness. Certain foods, liquids, medical conditions, tobacco use, altitude, and other lifestyle activities and health issues can increase the chance of developing retinal migraine.
What else causes you to see spots?
Although it’s uncommon, you could also be seeing spots due to:
- Inflammation in the back of the eye which causes debris to be released into the vitreous. This could be caused by inflammatory diseases or infection.
- Bleeding into the eye which could be caused by diabetes, hypertension or injured blood vessels.
- Certain medications that are injected into the vitreous can cause bubbles.
The benign conditions that cause individuals to see spots and colored spots are very difficult to distinguish from conditions that lead to permanent vision damage. If you experience any changes in your vision or feel pain in and around your eyes, contact your eye doctor and schedule an exam. An eye doctor is best qualified to diagnose and treat any conditions related to your eyes and ensure continued eye health, and refer you for further evaluation and treatment, if necessary.
If you’re searching for a qualified eye doctor to help you maintain the health of your eyes, and make an appointment today.