Why Eyeballs Don’t Freeze At Subzero Temperatures

“The eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.” —Proverbs 17:24

In A Nutshell

If our hands, toes, noses, and other body parts are susceptible to freezing and getting frostbitten, it might seem unusual that our eyeballs can survive the cold totally unprotected. But, unlike other bodily extremities, the eyes are constantly pumped with a strong supply of warm blood—even in the coldest situations. Furthermore, our eyes are nestled rather deeply in our heads where bone, tissue, and fat also help keep them warm. Essentially, it’s virtually impossible for the eyes to freeze as long as they are inside a warm, functioning body.

The Whole Bushel

Any time the weather drops below freezing, people quickly don their heavy coats, scarves, and other layers. Yet, for the most part, no one worries about keeping their eyes warm. Even Inuits, Siberians, and Antarctic explorers, who regularly wear Michelin Man–esque clothing, leave their eyeballs exposed. If anyone does put on glasses or goggles, it is mostly to protect their eyes from snow glare or wind—not from the cold. So, what is it exactly about the eyeball that seems to make it immune from freezing?

Although it seems to defy logic that the wet, soft tissue of the eye wouldn’t immediately freeze when the thermometer drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, in truth, the explanation is quite simple. Our eyes don’t ice over because they are almost entirely encased in our warm, well-regulated heads. They are positioned more than halfway inside our noggins and protected by insulating bone, muscle, fat, and eyelids.

Making the eye even less likely to freeze is the fact that it’s filled with numerous blood vessels which continually heat it up with the hot blood from our bodies. In fact, the primary blood source to the eye is the ophthalmic artery, which is a branch off the same, deep artery that supplies the brain. When in cold surroundings, the body diverts even more blood to the brain (and other vital organs) which, in turn, helps keep eyes even warmer.

Because tears are saltwater, they are also resistant to freezing; however, they can solidify in extreme cold and possibly “gum up” the eyelids. Even so, the eye itself will be unaffected. Basically, our eyes will only naturally freeze after our bodies are dead and cold.

That being said, it is technically possible to freeze the eye through unnatural means. There is a medical procedure known as retinal cryotherapy, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze a portion of the eye for the purpose of treating retinal breaks and detachments.

Show Me The Proof

NY Times: Q&A: Cold Eyes
Parade: Why Don’t Polar Bears’ Eyeballs Freeze in Arctic Weather?
Merck Manual Home Health Handbook: Overview of Cold Injuries
Henry Gray, Anatomy of the Human Body: The Arteries
Encyclopedia of Surgery: Retinal Cryopexy

  • Check

    How do you explain then the term, “Icy stare”?

    • Nomsheep

      The person being stared is the one that froze!

    • Hotblack Desiato

      It might have something to do with being batshit crazy…

    • Araidne

      It’s an emotional description. A “cold” stare or an “icy” stare usually implies the one staring is angry with or doesn’t like the one they’re staring at.

  • Lisa 39

    Very cool article, I really learned something that could be useful, great job S Grant!

    • Hotblack Desiato

      Cool article….I see what you did there!

      • Lisa 39

        The funny part is that I didn’t do it on purpose, I saw it after I posted it which made me laugh at myself so I left it, I’m glad that you got it!

        • Hotblack Desiato

          Just being snarky, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve had time to be a regular on LV/KN and be a smart ass. 😉

          • Lisa 39

            You poor thing, welcome back!

          • Hotblack Desiato

            You still have to be nice, though, or I’ll tell Bonnie to come get you…

          • Lisa 39

            Clyde! Are you in a witness protection program and had to change your name? I’ll never tell 😉

          • Hotblack Desiato

            In short, I took a job contract that required me to work 12 hour days, 6 days a week (the job’s about done now, so no more long hours). We ‘lived’ on the job in a RV, and it was rather desolate..no internet. So basically I got home and forgot my PW, LOL, and made another account. I chose ‘Hotblack Desiato’ as a nod to one of my favorite novel trilogies.

            When I get around to it, I’ll resurrect Clyde from the dead, I’m just too lazy to do the lost PW deal right now. 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            I’d be to tired to do that after a work schedule like that, I’m glad that you’re back, you’ve missed some great lists and articles! And comments of course!

            So what novel trilogy is your new name from?

          • Hotblack Desiato

            The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. If you haven’t read the books or watched the original BBC series, I recommend you do. It’s delightfully funny and entertaining.

          • Lisa 39

            I’ve only seen the movie which I like, I’ll have to look for the series, I didn’t know there was a series or I’d have already been watching it!

          • Hotblack Desiato

            First came the BBC radio series in the late 70’s, then came the first two books ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy’, and ‘The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe’, then came the BBC TV series in 1981 which was 6 episodes of roughly 30-40 minutes.

            The movie was okay, but it strayed a bit from the TV series, which is far superior (at least most fans seem to think so). You can find all 6 episodes on YouTube, or probably Netflix, as well.

          • Lisa 39

            I will check on Netflix as soon as I get my new Xbox controller lol thank you Clyde or HD for now lol

    • Yeh well done S Grant

  • inconspicuous detective


  • Nomsheep

    Nice article, Thanks ^_^

  • Hotblack Desiato

    Eyes tend to boil more easily than freeze. That’s why one must wear a pressure suit and enclosed helmet above 50,000 feet. The fluid in the eyeball is affected first by lack of air pressure.

  • TheMadHatter

    That’s one cold look.

  • William Hannahs

    This is information is misleading and not true. Please correct this before someone believes you and is seriously injured. Even top musher and Four-time winner Doug Swingley, who knew better (I know because I remember discussing the possibility with Anarctic explorer Norman Vaughn) was blinded in one eye resulting in him dropping out of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race due to frozen corneas as reported in the Alaskan newspaper, The Juneau Empire.

    “I got to go see an eye doctor,” he said, as he walked toward a plane to take him to Anchorage, leading one of his dogs on leash and carrying his sled snow hook in the other hand. “He doesn’t want me to continue.”

    The 50-year-old Lincoln, Mont., musher said he froze his corneas when he took off his goggles because they were fogging up going down the Dalzell Gorge two days ago coming into Rohn, he said.

    The problem got worse and by the time Swingley arrived at the Takotna lodge checkpoint, 694 miles from the Nome finish line, he said he was blind in one eye.


    Additional info on this very real danger is available from Princeton University.