Do you have little freckles in your eyes? This might be why.

Do you have little freckles in your eyes? This might be why.
An eye with freckles l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock
An eye with freckles l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock

If you’ve ever wondered what those brown speckles are in the iris of your eye, a recent study may finally have the answer.

Researchers searched for people with these “eye freckles” at public swimming pools in Styria, Austria. About 600 study participants were screened for the freckles and were asked questions about their lifetime exposure to the sun and what measures they take to protect themselves.

Here’s what scientists found

The study’s results suggest that too much time under the sun hurts more than our skin. Eye freckles generally corresponded with older age and higher numbers of reported sunburns over a lifetime — especially those that led to skin blistering. These freckles, although harmless in and of themselves, could lead to eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration, both of which can contribute to vision loss or blindness. Only those with darker eye colors appeared less susceptible to the freckles, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t protect themselves.

“While we do not know the exact role of sunlight in several eye diseases, we now have a biomarker [iris freckles] indicating high amounts of chronic sunlight exposure,” Christoph Schwab, an ophthalmologist at the Medical University of Graz, Austria, said in a release.

On the other hand, those who took care to use sunscreen or cover up their skin were less likely to have the eye freckles, the study found. It’s a reminder that we need to take care of ourselves amid the beachside book binges or summers wading in the pool.