Blue Eyes and Your Health

The color of your eyes can be an indication to risk factors when it comes to specific health problems. Interestingly enough, if you have blue eyes, your risk for certain health conditions increases when compared to any other eye color. This is due to the lack of melanin present in the iris of people with blue eyes.

Close up of fair skin woman with blue eyes

PhotoAlto / Milena Boniek / Getty Images

Percentage of People in the World With Blue Eyes

While many people think of blue eyes as popular, blue eyes are only present in 8-10% of the world population. The most common eye color? Brown, with an astounding 79% of people in the world having brown eyes.

Blue Eyes and Health

Eye color is about more than appearance. In science and research, blue eyes are sometimes a starting point for determining why a condition may exist. Researchers are looking at the connection between blue eyes and increased cases of:

  • Eye Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Macular degeneration
  • Hearing loss

Eye Cancer

Eye doctors remind almost everyone with blue eyes to wear sunglasses to reduce the risk of potential eye cancers like eye melanoma. In the same way, you can get melanoma on your skin, you can also get melanoma in your eye. 

Eye melanoma is known to be more common for those with fair skin and light-colored eyes. While ocular melanomas may happen at any age, the risk goes up as you get older.

Type 1 Diabetes

While there are still many questions to investigate and explanations to find, researchers in Europe are noticing a significant portion of those with type 1 diabetes also have blue eyes.

Macular Degeneration

The macula, which is at the retina's center, is susceptible to damage as you age. This damage will cause your vision to become blurrier and more distorted. While researchers have not pinpointed the exact cause yet, they know of two facts:

  • Macular degeneration is related to age. The older you are, the more likely you will have macular degeneration.
  • Women with fair skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes have a significantly higher chance of developing macular degeneration. 

Hearing Loss

According to a study in 2015, scientists are looking into the possibility of those who have blue eyes being at higher risk for sensorineural hearing loss.

This form of hearing loss comes from damage to the inner ear or to the nerve going from the ear to the brain. Since the inner ear uses melanin, and blue eyes come from a lack of melanin, some researchers hypothesize there may be a link between eye color and acquired hearing loss.

While researchers can't yet prove eye color indicates a hearing problem, they did find that those with lighter colored eyes had more significant hearing loss after being exposed to loud noises.

How Eyes Become Blue

Technically, blue eyes are colorless. Not only are they colorless, but everyone with blue eyes is directly related to the same ancestor.

An Optical Illusion

The iris is the colored part of your eye that has multiple layers. The top layer, called the epithelium, is where the melanin gives an eye its color lives. When there is no melanin or pigment in that top layer, the eyes take on a blue appearance. The blue hue is coming from the light reflecting on the water in your eye and through layers below. 

Looking at blue eyes is like looking at a swimming pool full of water. When swimming pools are being filled with water, the water going in is clear. However, when the water is altogether in the pool, it takes on a blue tint because it reflects light. This is the same concept when it comes to eye color. The iris' top layer's color is clear, but how it reflects light gives it a blue appearance.

Why Most Babies Are Born With Blue Eyes and Why They May Eventually Change

The gene responsible for creating the melanin in our eyes may wait to activate melanin production up to six months after birth. If this gene doesn't activate, the eyes will stay blue.

Genetics

A mere 10,000 years ago, blue eyes didn't exist. Right now, researchers believe there is one ancestor responsible for blue eyes descended from the Black Sea region of southeastern Europe anywhere between 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.

This one person with a genetic mutation had children, which passed the trait to the next generation. As that generation had children and moved around, the blue eye mutation continued to spread. 

This means everyone with blue eyes has one thing in common; they're all related. Researchers have spent years trying to figure out why some of us have brown eyes while others have blue, hazel, or green.

Since the blue eye genes go as far back as the Stone Age, there is no concern about two blue-eyed people dating, getting married, or having children. The ancestors that blue-eyed people have in common go so far back in time that it's implausible you'd share any genetic material with someone outside your family tree.

How did we go from having one person living near the Black Sea with blue eyes to millions of people worldwide having blue eyes within the last 10,000 years? No one knows. However, there are several interesting theories.

It all may relate to the dark winters prevalent in Northern Europe. In theory, blue eyes may protect you from acquiring vision disorders caused by the long dark winters. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does a parent with a different eye color have a blue-eyed child?

    There are two main genes on chromosome 15, called the OCA2 and HERC2 genes, that determine a person's eye color. Blue eye color is a recessive trait, but brown-eyed parents can still produce a blue-eyed child if both parents carry the genes for blue eyes.

  • Which country has the most people with blue eyes?

    Blue eyes are more concentrated in certain regions than others. The top location known for its fair-skinned, blue-eyed population is Estonia, followed closely by Finland. Ireland and Scotland have the next-highest population of people with blue eyes.

  • Why do some people have light blue eyes and others have dark blue?

    Eye color is partially affected by light, especially blue eyes, which get their color specifically by light entering and reflecting out of the eye. This can make the blue eyes look slightly different depending on the type of lighting conditions.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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