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Brown spots on the eyes are abnormal growths on the eye usually caused by nevi or ocular melanoma.
Brown spots on the eye are caused by a clumping of pigment cells, similar to how freckles or moles form on the skin. Some people are born with these spots. Other people develop them as they age.
For the most part, brown spots on the eyes are not dangerous. Nevi are harmless, though spots of ocular melanoma are something to be concerned about.
It can be hard to tell if you have ocular melanoma, as there are few early warning signs or symptoms. Comprehensive eye exams are needed to diagnose the condition.
Treatment for brown spots on the eyes depends on what type of spots you have. Most nevi don’t require any treatment, though they will be observed for any changes in shape and color. Ocular melanoma requires appropriate treatment that can include surgery or laser therapy.
What Are Brown Spots on the Eye?
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) describes brown spots on the eyes as abnormal growths on the eye, usually on the conjunctiva or iris. The spots can be associated with conditions such as a nevus or ocular melanoma.
A nevus (plural: nevi) is a common colored growth that can develop on or in your eye. Commonly referred to as a freckle of the eye, a nevus can develop on the front of your eye, around the iris, or even under the retina behind your eye. For the most part, nevi are harmless and don’t require treatment beyond monitoring them for any changes in shape in or color.
Changes in nevi can indicate the presence of ocular melanoma. This is a type of cancer that develops in the pigment-producing cells of your eye. Ocular melanoma is the most common type of eye cancer in adults, but it is very rare.
Causes of These Spots
Freckles on the eye, which are similar to moles on the skin, form when cells that produce melanin (the pigment that gives our skin, hair, and eyes color) clumps together. AAO explains that these clumps can occur due to:
- Being born with nevi on the eyes.
- Cells that clump later in life and form nevi, though these spots run a higher risk of developing into cancer.
- Potential UV exposure. A possible association exists between exposure to UV light and developing nevi.
The exact causes of ocular melanoma are still unknown, though many risk factors have been identified. Risk factors for ocular melanoma include:
- Repeated exposure to natural or artificial sunlight over long periods of time.
- Blue or green (light-colored) eyes.
- Older age.
- Being of Caucasian descent.
- Inherited skin conditions that cause irregular moles.
- Nonstandard skin pigmentation of the eyelids.
- Increased pigmentation on the uvea (the middle layer of the eye underneath the sclera).
- A mole on the eye or on the surface of the eye.
Understanding the risk factors and potential causes of brown spots on your eyes can help you assess what type of brown spots you may have.
Are Brown Spots on the Eyes Dangerous?
Some brown spots on the eyes are harmless, while others are cause for concern.
Nevi, for example, are typically nothing to worry about, though your eye doctor will probably still keep an eye on them. They may take pictures of any nevi on your eyes and compare them over time. If there is no change in the nevi over the course of a year or two, they are probably not dangerous.
Nevi can change over time and as you age, explains AAO. For this reason, regular eye exams at least once a year by an ophthalmologist are recommended.
If a brown spot on your eye grows or changes shape, it could be melanoma. Nevi that were once considered to be stable can also develop into melanoma as you get older.
How to Tell if You Have Ocular Melanoma
Unfortunately, there are few early warning signs of ocular melanoma. Many people develop this type of cancer and do not experience any symptoms until the cancer has become more advanced.
Signs of ocular melanoma include:
- Blurry vision.
- Sudden loss of vision.
- Floaters or flashes of light.
- Loss of part of your visual field.
- A dark spot on your eye that continues to get bigger.
- A change in the size or shape of your pupil.
- A change in how your eyeball sits and moves in the eye socket.
- Bulging of the eye.
Regular eye exams play an important role in the early detection and treatment of eye cancers. Some eye cancers cannot be seen until an eye doctor takes a deeper look into your eye.
By seeing an ophthalmologist once a year, you greatly increase your chances of catching eye diseases in their early stages before they become too advanced.
During the consultation, we will ask you about your eye health history and your medications, and perform some tests. You will then be examined by the surgeon who will discuss your treatment options. Your personal Patient Counselor will help you throughout the process.
Your Counselor can review payment options and schedule you for surgery and related appointments, such as pre- and post-operative exams. Prior to your procedure you will have a dilated eye exam, and you should discontinue wearing your contact lenses and begin taking eye drops as instructed.
Plan to be at the center for two to three hours the day of your procedure. ICL eye surgery is a fairly brief outpatient procedure. Your surgeon dilates your eyes, and gives you a local anesthetic to numb the area. A tiny incision is made, and the clear lens is slipped between your iris and your eye’s natural lens. The day of your procedure should be a day of rest.
Your Patient Counselor will give you detailed post-operative instructions and eye drop regimen for your recovery. After ICL surgery, you’ll need several follow-ups with your eye doctor. Visual recovery is rapid, and you can expect noticeable improvement within a day or two. Most patients are generally able to return to their normal activities within two or three days following their procedure.
How to Treat Brown Spots on the Eyes
According to AAO, most eye freckles do not need to be treated. They do not affect your vision or lead to further vision or health problems.
Cases where a brown spot on your eye may warrant treatment include:
- Your ophthalmologist suspects the spot could be melanoma.
- A spot on the outer wall of your eye is affecting the appearance of your eye.
- You have noticed changes in the shape or color of the spots.
In the above cases, a brown spot on your eye can be removed. Treatment options include radiation, surgery, laser therapy, or removal of the eye in severe cases. Your doctor may also just want to wait and observe any changes to the spots on your eyes.
Be sure to consult with an ophthalmologist about any spots that appear on your eyes. Your eye doctor can ensure that the spots are benign or recommend the best treatment if the spots are cancerous.
Nevus (Eye Freckle). (October 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Signs and Symptoms of Eye Cancer. (November 2018). American Cancer Society.
Spot on Eye, Brown. (December 2015). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
What Is Ocular Melanoma? (October 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology.