Eye Freckles: What are They & Should You Be Worried?

Similar to freckles on the skin but less common, freckles can also grow in your eyes. Some people were born with them, but they can also grow over time. Most often it’s nothing to worry about. But there is a chance that your eye freckle can turn into a type of cancer called melanoma. It is rare, but it can happen. For that reason, if you have an eye freckle, your doctor may want to keep an eye on it over time.

What is an Eye Freckle?

An eye freckle is called a nevus (or nevi if you have multiple), and it is what it sounds like. It’s a small spot on your eye that looks similar to the little moles and freckles many people have on the rest of their body. They can be brown, yellow, grey, or a combination of each.

Where Eye Freckles Can Grow

eyeball close up

Nevi can appear in different parts of your eye. Sometimes you’ll be able to spot them and other times they’ll be hidden behind your eye. Eye freckles have different names depending on where they’re located in your eye.

If you have an eye freckle that’s visible on the surface of your eye, that’s called a conjunctival nevus. Iris nevus is the name of an eye freckle located in your iris – the colored part of your eye (which may be harder to spot). And finally, an eye freckle that you cannot see, located under the retina in the back of your eye is called choroidal nevus.

What Causes an Eye Freckle?

Cells called melanocytes produce melanin, which gives color to your hair, skin pigmentation, and eyes. If you have dark hair, eyes and skin, your body is producing more melanin than someone with fair skin and light hair. The amount of melanin is determined mostly by your genetics, but also the amount of sun exposure your ancestors had.

When these melanin-producing melanocyte cells clump together, eye freckles are produced. But why this happens in some people and not others is still largely a mystery. What we do know is that there are a couple of things that can affect your chances of eye freckles occurring.

Your race is one indicator for eye freckles. People with light skin complexion have a much higher chance of getting eye freckles than people with darker skin. This likely has a lot to do with the sun exposure of ancestors.

sunset over a lake

Sun damage is the most well-known way to increase your chances of contracting eye freckles. Similar to how people that spend time in the sun are more likely to get freckles on their face, the same appears to be true for eye freckles. According to a 2017 study, there is some evidence that people who spend more time in the sun are more likely to have iris freckles.

Should You Be Worried?

The reality is that most eye freckles are noncancerous. But because there’s still a chance, they should always be monitored by a doctor. By monitoring the size, shape, color, and elevation, your doctor will be able to catch any changes or developments. There are also some symptoms to watch out for. If you notice any of the following happening, contact your doctor.

  • If your eye freckle changes in size, or is more than 2 millimeters in diameter
  • Pain in your eye
  • If you start to see flashing lights
  • If your vision is affected
  • If you have freckles in both eyes
  • If your eye freckle is orange

Protecting Yourself

doctor with a clipboard

Eye freckles are often tiny. On top of that, they can be difficult to see either because your iris is dark in color or because they’re altogether invisible behind your retina. As a result, it’s often very tough to see and monitor eye freckles.

But your doctor can. Using powerful equipment, they can see things you can’t. They also have the knowledge and expertise to notice when something seems abnormal. That’s why scheduling yearly eye exams with your doctor is the number one way to detect eye freckles and complications.

Another way to protect yourself is with a good pair of sunglasses. They don’t have to be fancy, but they need to be UV light blocking. While it isn’t proven, it’s quite possible that sunglasses can lower your chances of an eye freckle turning into melanoma. At the very least, sunglasses will keep harmful UV rays out of your eyes, and prevent other conditions like cataracts.

Can Eye Freckles be Removed?

Eye freckles can be removed with surgery. But as mentioned, in the majority of cases this isn’t necessary. Melanoma is the main risk. If your doctor thinks your eye freckle is cancerous then it can be removed. This surgery can be done using either a local excision (a super tiny blade) or with a laser.

If you have an eye freckle, be proactive and book an appointment at Inner Harbour Optometry. Our family-run clinic is dedicated to providing our patients with the very best in eye health assessments. Call today at 250-920-0755 or easily make a booking on our website.