What Is Heterochromia Iridum?

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  • Written By: Synthia L. Rose
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 29 June 2019
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Heterochromia iridum is an innate or acquired ocular condition characterized by an individual having irides — the plural of iris — of contrasting hues. In some people or animals, one iris may be dark brown or blue, while the other iris is green or hazel. This condition, also known as heterochromia iridis, may also express itself through intra-iris color variations, with one eye having two, three or more contrasting sectors of pigment.

Causes include inherited disorders, injuries or cancer and other eye diseases. While some people experience no effects other than the superficial eye color variations, others with this condition can experience a wide spectrum of side effects, including visual distortion, blindness and eye inflammation. Side effects depend on the nature of the cause.

Elderly patients often acquire heterochromia iridum as a result of cataracts or glaucoma. Research findings suggest glaucoma can precipitate changes in ocular pigment for adults in two ways. Glaucoma-linked optic nerve damage and eye pressure can force color abnormalities or prescription eye drops prescribed by doctors to treat glaucoma can contain ingredients that cause hypo-pigmentation or color shifting in the iris.


Clinical research suggests that those suffering from iris cancer can suffer heterochromia iridium. The type of ocular cancer known as melanocytic stromal proliferation can alter the structure of the eye and shift color through the presence of lesions, which can mask parts of the iris. While melanomas of the eye are highly treatable, homogenous color may not return.

Individuals exposed to chemicals or infection can acquire a form of heterochromia iridum caused by Fuchs' Heterochromic Iridocyclitis (FHI), an eye condition during which inflammation of the iris and color loss occur. FHI can be temporary or permanent. Injuries that cause hemorrhaging in the eye can also induce the condition.

Human babies and animals born with heterochromia iridum typically have one of several genetic diseases linked to contrasting eye hues, including Horner’s syndrome and Waardenburg syndrome. In cases of Waardenburg syndrome, a person or animal may not only experience dissimilar eye pigments, but also a variety of skin pigments, a lack of hearing and tooth abnormalities. Horner’s syndrome is a condition in which nerves between the brain and the eye are destroyed or do not develop properly. Newborns who have heterochromia iridum but have no genetic predisposition for any syndromes may have the condition due to nerve damage that occurred from a traumatic injury during childbirth or in the immediate aftermath of birth.


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Post 3

@pastanaga - I'm sure historically it hasn't been something to envy. I can almost guarantee that there have been people labeled as being demons or witches because they happened to be born with different colored eyes.

Or worse, the poor unfortunates who developed glaucoma or something back when people didn't know what that was. Then it would have really looked like they "made a deal with the devil".

Even today, I'm sure there are a lot of people who would find it hard to accept someone who looked that different (like people who have obvious birthmarks often have trouble). It's a sad state of affairs, frankly, because we should be past this kind of shallow bigotry.

Post 2

@Fa5t3r - Well, some people seem to think that this condition is one to be envied. I know in a lot of fanfiction I've read, a character who is supposed to be extra-special for some reason will often have different colored eyes.

I can see why it might seem interesting or like you get the best of both worlds, but from the article it sounds like it's often a marker for a condition of some kind, so I'm not so sure it should be the target of envy.

Post 1

Apparently there is a drug which can make your eyelashes longer and thicker, but one of the side effects is that it sometimes changes the color of your eyes.

It's used quite a lot by women who really want to have naturally long, thick lashes (which are almost universally considered to be desirable I think) and I think it was originally supposed to be a heart medication or something.

But, if you have light colored eyes, like blue eyes, it may start to add melanin to them until they turn brown. I think it might do it unevenly as well, so you could end up with heterochromia iridium. I don't know if it's worth the risk.

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