What is Pigment Dispersion Syndrome?

D. Jeffress

Pigment dispersion syndrome is a rare inherited condition in which flecks of pigment cells detach from the irises of the eyes. The flecks can potentially become lodged in drainage areas, which leads to pressure buildup, vision problems, and possibly glaucoma. Pigment dispersion syndrome is almost exclusively seen in males of Caucasian descent in their 20s and 30s. There is no cure for the disorder, but early detection and a combination of medical and surgical treatment can relieve symptoms and help prevent serious complications.

Pigment dispersion syndrome can lead to vision problems.
Pigment dispersion syndrome can lead to vision problems.

Doctors do not fully understand why pigment dispersion syndrome occurs, but it has been tied to an autosomal dominant genetic factor. The condition can be inherited if one or both parents carry an abnormal gene. Symptoms begin when pigment granules on the back of the irises spontaneously detach and float in the whites of the eyes in a fluid called the aqueous humor. In many cases, dispersion is minimal and the granules may or may not be visible during an eye exam.

A doctor should notice signs of pigment dispersion syndrome during a routine eye exam.
A doctor should notice signs of pigment dispersion syndrome during a routine eye exam.

Complications only occur when many granules detach and get stuck in the trabecular meshwork, the drainage canals for excess aqueous humor. If pigments block the canals, fluid builds up and leads to an increase in intraocular pressure. Over time, pressure can damage the optic nerve. Pigment dispersion syndrome can lead to eye and head pain, blurry vision, and nearsightedness. Permanent eye damage can occur if the condition is not diagnosed and treated in the early stages.

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Pigment dispersion syndrome can cause vision problems and glaucoma.
Pigment dispersion syndrome can cause vision problems and glaucoma.

Since most people with pigment dispersion syndrome do not experience immediate symptoms, their conditions often go undetected. An eye doctor may notice signs of pigment detachment on a routine eye exam and then decide to conduct further diagnostic tests to rule out other problems. Several other disorders, including diabetes and some forms of cancer, can lead to pigment dispersion. A specialist can perform a series of tests, including ultrasounds and microscopic inspections, to confirm a diagnosis.

Pigment dispersion syndrome may cause head pain.
Pigment dispersion syndrome may cause head pain.

Treatment is not always necessary for mild forms of pigment dispersion syndrome. Patients who do not have symptoms are usually instructed to schedule regular eye exams to make sure their conditions do not worsen. If problems do occur, a doctor can prescribe eye drops to reduce the amount of aqueous humor and thereby relieve intraocular pressure. Laser surgery to remove pigment from drainage areas and repair damaged structures is necessary in severe cases. Most patients still have vision problems following surgery, but their eyesight often improves significantly within a few weeks.

Eye drops can help to relieve any intra-ocular pressure that's caused by pigment dispersion syndrome.
Eye drops can help to relieve any intra-ocular pressure that's caused by pigment dispersion syndrome.
The possible side effects of pigment dispersion syndrome include blurred vision and eye pain.
The possible side effects of pigment dispersion syndrome include blurred vision and eye pain.

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Discussion Comments

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I have seen people with eyes like this. I thought the effect was really striking, but of course I didn't realize it could actually be dangerous. I suppose not every illness or disorder necessarily has to look bad to be bad.

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