What Causes Freckles on Eyes?

Jillian O Keeffe

Freckles are collections of similar cells that form a different color to the area around them, and freckles on eyes have the same cause as those found on the skin. Also known as nevi, freckles on the eyes are generally harmless, and are not uncommon. Though this is rare, freckles on the eyes can also indicate the possible presence of cancerous growth.

People with blue eyes have a high risk of melanoma cancer of the eye.
People with blue eyes have a high risk of melanoma cancer of the eye.

Those cells in the body that produce pigment in the skin and hair also grow in the eye, called melanocytes. Usually, melanocytes are scattered across tissues, but sometimes a grouping of the cells can occur. This gives the location a darker appearance than the surrounding tissue. Most often, these colored spots are gray and flat, with a round shape, though they can also have yellow or brown colorations.

People of European ancestry end to develop eye freckles more often than people with other genetic ancestors.
People of European ancestry end to develop eye freckles more often than people with other genetic ancestors.

Often, these groupings of melanocytes, which medical professionals also term nevi, or naevus in the singular, are present in the colored part of the eye called the iris. Freckles on eyes can also be in the choroid tissue, which sits behind the retina. These aggregations of cells are typically harmless.

Only a small amount of freckles on eyes require a doctor's attention.
Only a small amount of freckles on eyes require a doctor's attention.

According to experts, people can be born with nevi or they can develop in the time from birth to middle age. People of European ancestry tend to develop nevi more often than people with other genetic ancestors. In fact, about six percent of Caucasian people have freckles in the choroidal tissue.

Freckles on eyes can also be in the choroid tissue, which sits behind the retina.
Freckles on eyes can also be in the choroid tissue, which sits behind the retina.

Even though most freckles on eyes are due to a benign collection of melanocytes, opthalmologists recognize that eye freckles, much like skin moles, are capable of changing into cancerous growths called melanomas. Sun damage is correlated with skin cancers, and so may play a similar role in eye nevi. Regular eye tests, which involve photographs of the eye, can help an ophthalmologist to identify freckles that change shape, or size in the eye. Other danger signs include color change, such as an orange tint to the freckle or a freckle that produces fluid.

In addition to wearing sunscreen, fair-skinned people should wear sunglasses and and other protective gear while at the beach.
In addition to wearing sunscreen, fair-skinned people should wear sunglasses and and other protective gear while at the beach.

Only a small minority of freckles on eyes, however, require a doctor's attention. The majority of eye nevi are harmless and do not cause any health problems. If the nevus is cancerous, however, then a surgeon may remove it in an operation, or the patient may have to undergo radiation treatment. People with fair skin and blue eyes are the group with the highest risk of melanoma cancer of the eye.

People with fair skin may develop freckles on the eyes.
People with fair skin may develop freckles on the eyes.
An ophthalmologist can examine the eye to diagnose causes for vision problems.
An ophthalmologist can examine the eye to diagnose causes for vision problems.
Sun damage may play a role in eve nevi.
Sun damage may play a role in eve nevi.

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Discussion Comments

Markerrag

Fascinating stuff, and I've got a funny story (well, at least I think it's funny buy your mileage may vary). I read this earlier and got curious about freckles on eyes. I tried looking into my wife's eyes to see if she had any freckles on them and she kept asking me what was wrong.

If I want to learn more about them, perhaps I should visit an optometrist I know. I tried to explain to my wife what I was doing and she just called me a nut.

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