April 01, 2018

Should I be concerned about dark spots in my vision?

Q: I've noticed several dark spots in my vision. Is this something to be concerned about?

A: Dark spots such as those you describe may be floaters. These black or gray specks, strings, or cobwebs typically drift about when you move your eyes and appear to dart away when you look at them directly.

People who need glasses to see distance (nearsighted) are more likely to get floaters. They're more common in older adults, as well as in people who've experienced eye trauma or inflammation inside the eye.

The presence of a few floaters usually isn't a cause for concern. Most are caused by age-related changes that occur as the jellylike substance (vitreous) inside your eye becomes more liquid. When this happens, tiny fibers within the vitreous tend to clump and can cast tiny shadows on your retina.

Although usually harmless, not all floaters are nonthreatening clumps of vitreous, so it's a good idea to have any new floaters examined by an eye doctor. Contact an eye specialist immediately if you notice a sudden increase in floaters in one eye. In particular, seek prompt attention if you also see light flashes or lose your peripheral vision. This change may signal that the retina has or is pulling away from the back of your eye (retinal detachment). Detachment usually occurs over about a week.

A retina with a hole or tear can be successfully treated, either with laser treatment or surgery. If left untreated, full detachment can lead to vision loss in the affected eye.