We’ve all known at least one person with freckles in our lives, with those tiny, darker dots covering their otherwise fair-skinned faces and arms. Not as common, however, are freckles on your eyes. Are they a sign of something serious?

What are freckles?

Freckles are caused by exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet radiation increases melanin production, which causes freckles to become visible on the skin. People with freckles tend to have a lower concentration of melanin, which means they are more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV radiation.

Like their counterparts on the skin, eye freckles are caused by sun exposure. They are generally harmless and are somewhat common. Freckles can be found in multiple parts of the eye. Some appear as brown spots on the conjunctiva, the outer white surface of the eye. Other freckles appear on the blue iris as a brown or dark spot. Finally, some freckles appear on the inside wall of the eye. These freckles can only be seen by an eye doctor.

What do they signify?

CEENTA Ophthalmologist Casey Mathys, MD

Most freckles are benign, but in a small number of cases they can become cancerous, CEENTA Ophthalmologist Casey Mathys, MD, said.

“This is one reason why having an annual eye check up is very important,” Dr. Mathys said.

Eye freckles can also be a sign that a person is at greater risk of developing a sun-related eye condition like a cataract or macular degeneration.

A cataract is when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, leading to blurry or decreased vision. While this typically happens to most people as they age, sunlight – specifically UV light – is absorbed by the lens of the eye and over time can cause damage that may contribute to the progression of cataract development. Sunlight alone will not cause cataracts, but UV light is one of the factors that increases the risk for the development or progression of cataracts.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of vision loss in older Americans. Studies have shown that people from their teenage years through their 40s who spend more than five hours a day in the sun are twice as likely to develop AMD as those who spend less than two hours per day.

What can I do?

If you have eye freckles, what can you do to protect your eyes from UV radiation? You don’t have to avoid the sun completely, but protection will help. When you’re outside, you should wear sunglasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. You could also wear a wide-brimmed hat.

While eye freckles shouldn’t cause you any problems, protecting your eyes when you’re outside and a visit with your doctor can help keep your eyes safe and healthy.

If you have eye freckles and would like to see an eye doctor, call 704-295-3000.

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