PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s called exfoliation syndrome.

While it may sound like something having to do with your skin, it’s actually a dangerous eye condition.

Local ophthalmologists say they’re seeing it more and more in patients in the Pittsburgh area and there’s a reason for that.

For certain people who spend a lot of time outdoors, sunlight can increase the odds of developing a rare condition called exfoliation syndrome.

“The lens capsule surrounding the lens of your eye can flake off in certain people,” Sewickley Eye Group Ophthalmologist Dr. Kevin Clark said. “Most people would have no symptoms of exfoliation syndrome. It would be something that their eye doctor would have to notice. And the eye doctor may have to see them several times over the years to finally pick it up.”

A study of about 200 patients in the United States and Israel looked at latitude and number of hours per week outdoors. The risk for the syndrome was greater with more outdoor time and residing in more northern locations.

“It tends to happen in people of northern European ancestry, particularly Scandinavian descent,” Dr. Clark said.

In the United States, working in snow, or working on water was associated with increased odds.

“We’ve seen it occupationally in glass blowers, or firefighters, but particularly in this area, workers in a steel mill, because they’re exposed to hot molten steel,” Dr. Clark said.

While there seems to be a genetic tendency, a significant environmental factor is reflected light. If additional studies confirm this pattern, a simple pair of sunglasses will be a key to prevention.

“It decreases your risk of macular degeneration, and cataracts, so it’s sort of a no-brainer to wear sunglasses when you’re outside,” Dr. Clark said.

There is no way to fix exfoliation syndrome, but there is surgery to fix the glaucoma that results from the flakes plugging up the eye’s drainage system.

“Only two people out of 1,000 will be afflicted with this. Because I’m an ophthalmologist, I see a person every day with this. And I operate on someone with this same condition at least once a week,” Dr. Clark said.

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