HealthUnlocking the mystery of multicolored irises: understanding and identifying heterochromia

Unlocking the mystery of multicolored irises: understanding and identifying heterochromia

Heterochromia affects 1 percent of the population.
Heterochromia affects 1 percent of the population.
Images source: © Getty Images | EndoFotografia

9:31 PM EST, January 10, 2024

Heterochromia refers to a harmless genetic anomaly resulting from an uneven distribution of pigment within one or both eyes. There are three identified types of heterochromia:

  1. Central heterochromia - this type is characterized by two colors within the iris. One forms a ring around the pupil and seamlessly transitions into the typical color of the eye,
  2. Total heterochromia (or heterochromia iridum) - here, each eye has a different color. For instance, one might be brown and the other, blue,
  3. Partial heterochromia (or heterochromia iridis) - in this type, some parts of the iris have different colors than the rest, and it can occur in both eyes.

How to identify heterochromia?

Recognizing heterochromia is fairly simple. One needs only to gaze directly into someone's eyes. At first glance, it will be noticeable that one iris differs in color or shade. This variance might be subtle and only visible under specific lighting.

Still, it's noteworthy that any slight alteration in iris color should be promptly evaluated by an ophthalmologist.

What provokes heterochromia?

Heterochromia is commonly attributed to either a deficiency or excess of the pigment melanin. Melanin is responsible for the color of our skin, hair, and eyes. When there's a disruption in melanin levels, heterochromia can emerge.

Primarily, heterochromia is a genetic anomaly that surfaces within the early days of life. That said, multicolored irises could also develop at later stages. Acquired heterochromia could be a product of:

  • ocular trauma,
  • glaucoma treatment,
  • inflammation of the eye structures,
  • diabetes,
  • eye melanoma,
  • vitiligo,
  • Waardenburg syndrome,
  • Parry-Romberg syndrome,
  • Sturge-Weber syndrome,
  • Hirschsprung's disease,
  • eye cancer.

Is heterochromia hazardous?

The threat posed by heterochromia depends on its root cause. If multicolored irises appear at birth, it usually signifies a benign genetic anomaly. It does not trigger health issues nor does it directly jeopardize a person's health.

If, however, heterochromia suddenly manifests it should be medical evaluated as soon as feasible. Multicolored irises could indicate a disease that requires treatment.

Is heterochromia curable?

Born-with heterochromia is not harmful, hence, does not need treatment. Unless it induces changes in eye apparatus, corrective measures are unnecessary. To some, heterochromia makes for a unique and distinguishing feature. To others, it could be a source of self-consciousness. In such cases, balancing the color of the irises with specialty contact lenses could be a viable solution.

If a disease triggers the development of multicolored irises, it becomes imperative to initiate proper treatment aimed at the underlying issue.

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