What you need to know about eye color and your eyesight.

Ever notice that it’s usually the coworker with light colored eyes complaining about the brightness of the office’s artificial lighting? Or, maybe you’re the light-eyed friend that can never adjust your eyes to the sunny outdoors as quickly as all your brown eyed pals. Well, there is a good explanation for this – one that contains important eye health information.

People with light-colored eyes can be more sensitive to light, and are at higher risk for some types of vision disease.

What is eye color?

Eye color is determined by multiple genetic traits that control the amount of pigmentation or melanin found in the colored part of the eye or iris. The actual color of the iris appears because of the scattering of light in the eye’s iris. (The same way it gives us a “blue” sky.) People with lighter eyes have less pigment or melanin and light scattering results in the appearance of lighter colored eyes, including blue, grey, green or variations of these colors. (Also, see eye color post.)

What less melanin means for vision health.

People with light-colored irises have less melanin to absorb light, and tend to be more light-sensitive. People with darker eyes have more melanin to block more light from entering the eye. This is also the reason why light-colored eyes are more vulnerable to ultraviolet exposure, increasing the risk for certain eye cancer, macular degeneration, cataracts and photokeratitis or temporary blindness due to UV exposure.

What does this mean?

Everyone should practice the following tips for maintaining vision health, regardless of eye color. The higher risks associated with light-colored eyes should be additional motivation to protect the eyes with healthy vision practices. These tips can help reduce those risks and help keep those baby blues, jade greens and icy greys healthy.

Beware of UV exposure. Protect your light eyes from the dangers of UV exposure, such as wearing sunglasses that are labeled UV400 or 100% UV protection, wearing hats for added UV protection and being careful around reflective surfaces. Certain protective eyewear and performance-based sunglasses have different tints and lenses, design for specific physical conditions, reflective surfaces and outdoor sports. Before buying a pair of sunglasses or protective eyewear, it’s important to pay attention to the manufacturer’s recommended use and ensure proper fit.

Be Proactive about your vision health. You must also adopt behavior that leads to healthy vision, including taking action against computer eye strain. Computer monitors should be parallel to your line of sight, and make sure lighting can be adjusted. You should also avoid extensive or prolonged uses of digital devices. Take short breaks from your computer, television or mobile devises to help decrease vision stress. Most importantly, everyone in the family should receive annual eye exams, starting at age two.

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