Two Different Colored Eyes (Heterochromia): Causes, Risks

Have you ever seen someone with two different colored eyes? This interesting trait is called heterochromia. Potential causes of multi-colored eyes include heredity, eye injury, some medication, eye cancer, and several syndromes.

Most cases of heterochromia do not require treatment, while few cases that are associated with the diseased conditions of the body should go away after treating the underlying causative factors.

What is Heterochromia or Two Different Colored Eyes?

Multi-colored eyes or heterochromia is a condition in which a person has two different colors of eyes. The term comes from the Greek words “heteros” meaning “different” and “chroma” meaning “color.” Heterochromia can be present at birth or develop later in life, and it can be present in one eye or both eyes.

The most common type of heterochromia is called complete heterochromia, which occurs when one iris is a completely different color than the other. Complete heterochromia can occur with any combination of colors of the rainbow, resulting in many different possible combinations.

Incomplete heterochromia occurs when there are two colors within one iris that are not equal to each other

A person with central heterochromia usually has two different colors in one iris. This can be one color near the pupil, and another color near the edge of their iris.

Heterochromia of the eye is caused by variations in the distribution of melanin in the colored part of the eye or iris. Melanin, which gives color to your hair and skin as well as your eyes, can be more concentrated in one iris than another causing different colors to show.

Two different colored eyes or heterochromia is also known as heterochromia iridis or heterochromia iridum.

Most of the time, it’s harmless. It’s often just a throwback to your parent’s genes or something that happened when your eyes were developing. In rare cases, it can be a symptom of a serious medical issue.

multi-two-different-colored-eyes-heterochromia

How rare is it to have two different colored eyes?

Two different colored eyes or heterochromia is more common in animals than it is in humans. It occurs in less than one percent of the population. Fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. are affected by the condition.

Before we learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of heterochromia, it’s important to know what determines eye color.

How Eye Color is Determined?

Eye color is determined by the amount of melanin present in the iris, which is a part of the eye that regulates light entering the eye by dilating and constricting the pupil.

People with brown eyes usually have a higher concentration of melanin in them whereas blue eyes have the smallest amount of melanin pigment.

The color of a person’s eyes might change over the course of their life. For example, new babies are born with blue eyes but their eye colors turn darker within three years of their lives and continue to change as they grow older. This isn’t surprising since melanin develops in that time too.

The uneven distribution of melanin in the iris is what leads to different types of heterochromia.

What Causes 2 Different Colored Eyes or Heterochromia?

Congenital heterochromia is when an infant is born with different color eyes. This can happen early in life or right after the baby is born. Some people develop heterochromia later in life. This is called acquired heterochromia. The causes may be different for those who are born with it and for those who get it later on.

Risk Factors and Potential Causes of Congenital Heterochromia

The following diseases and syndromes are associated with the risk factors and causes of the two different colored eyes in infants.

Sturge-Weber Syndrome

Horner Syndrome

Hirschsprung Disease

Waardenburg Syndrome

Bourneville Syndrome

Bloch-Sulzberger Syndrome

Piebaldism

Risk Factors and Possible Causes of Acquired Heterochromia

Acquired heterochromia is less common than genetic or congenital heterochromia, and it has the following risk factors and causes.

Eye Injury

Glaucoma Medication

Eye Melanoma

Pigment Dispersion Syndrome

Fuchs’ Syndrome

Neuroblastoma

Central Retinal Vein Occlusion (CRVO)

Types and Symptoms of Multi-Colored Eyes

There are mainly three types of heterochromia, with their own unique appearances: complete heterochromia, central heterochromia, and sectoral heterochromia.

If a person is born with different colored eyes or gets it soon after birth, they have what is known as ‘congenital heterochromia’.

In most cases, people with heterochromia won’t experience any other symptoms besides different eye colors. However, in some cases, heterochromia can be symptomatic of other problems with their eyes or general health.

Central Heterochromia

Central heterochromia is when the outer area of the colored part of the eye or iris has a different color than the inner ring of the iris. It’s also common for it to happen in both eyes, with two separate colors inside each eye.

If people have heterochromia, they’ll either have a color of gold or brown nearer the border of their pupils. A common form of this type of heterochromia is blue eyes with a ring in the center that’s more brown, starting around the pupil.

Complete Heterochromia (Heterochromia Iridum)

Heterochromia can be so extreme that one iris is a different color from the other. For example, one of them would be brown, while the other would be green. This rare condition of two different colored eyes is known as complete heterochromia.

Segmental or Sectoral Heterochromia or Partial Heterochromia (Heterochromia Iridis)

Sectoral heterochromia or partial heterochromia is when one part of the iris is different in color from the rest. It doesn’t form a complete circle around the pupil and instead, resembles irregular patches or spots on the colored parts of your eye or iris.

Central Heterochromia Versus (Vs) Hazel Eyes

An eye with central heterochromia has one color like brown around the pupil and another color like green on the outer edges of the iris. Hazel eyes are a mixture of different colors throughout the whole surface of the iris.

For instance, one person with central heterochromia might have a target-shaped pupil with multiple rings of color in it and another person has their hazel eyes look like confetti.

Is Heterochromia or Two Different Colored Eyes Cause for a Concern?

Is having two different colored eyes, heterochromia, a bad thing? Not typically, but it all depends on what caused it. If you were born with heterochromia then it’s not a problem and doesn’t mean anything is wrong.

However, acquired heterochromia may be caused by many factors, such as glaucoma eye drops. It can also reveal other health problems such as systemic diseases or injury.

One example is Waardenburg syndrome, which can cause a range of symptoms in children. This includes hearing impairment, premature graying hair, and unusual colored eyes (heterochromia).

Another example is neurofibromatosis, which affects the nervous system and can lead to tumors on nerves. They can also show up in the eye and cause Heterochromia.

If you notice a rapid change in your eye color, see an eye doctor find out the cause.

Heterochromia Diagnosis

A person with two different eye colors will be easy to identify. They can have one eye of one color and the other eye with a different color or they may have differences in the colors within their same eyes.

Color differences may be very slight and only noticeable in certain lighting or photographs.

Aside from slight variations in eye color, there usually aren’t any other signs of Heterochromia. But if a medical condition or trauma is responsible for the heterochromia, there may be other signs and symptoms present.

Most cases of any type of heterochromia are harmless. They do not affect vision and they cannot lead to complications. But it’s best to rule out other medical conditions in case.

If you have two different colored eyes or your heterochromia changes in appearance, see your eye doctor

Eye exam and other tests may be necessary. Typically, an eye exam is the first step, with other testing done on a case-by-case basis.

When to See a Doctor?

If you notice new changes in the color of your child’s eyes, be sure to talk to your health care provider. A thorough eye examination is necessary in order to ensure that there are no serious medical problems.

Some eye conditions with symptoms and signs of different eye colors or heterochromia, such as pigmentary glaucoma, may only be detectable by a thorough eye examination.

Treatment of Heterochromia

Heterochromia is mostly genetic and doesn’t need any special treatment. If an underlying condition is causing the heterochromia, speak to your doctor about getting that condition treated.

Colored contact lenses are available for cosmetic purposes if someone wants to change how their eyes look. Those with multi-colored eyes or heterochromia may wear them for aesthetic reasons.

However, having different colors in eyes is a sign of uniqueness – after all, many celebrities have heterochromia.

Famous People and Celebrities with Heterochromia

From Alexander the Great, a kind and conqueror to the famous actress Angelina Jolie many famous faces and celebrities have heterochromia or two different colored eyes — though you may not have noticed immediately. Following are some of our favorite stars who have this striking eye pigmentation.

Notable people and celebrities with Complete Heterochromia

  • Mila Kunis, actor-Acquired heterochromia
  • Jane Seymour, actor
  • Max Scherzer, baseball player
  • Josh Henderson, actor
  • Alice Eve, actor
  • Venus the Cat, Instagram viral cat
  • Michael Flatley, dancer and choreographer
  • Dan Akroyd, actor
  • Demi Moore, actor
  • Gracie Allen, vaudevillian and comedian
  • Michael Schwimmer, baseball player
  • Wentworth Miller, actor
  • Marshall Lancaster, actor
  • Colleen Moore, actor
  • Tim Mcllrath, singer, musician
  • Alexander the Great, a Macedonian king, conqueror

Famous Celebrities with Sectoral Heterochromia

  • Dominic Sherwood, actor
  • Kate Bosworth, actor
  • Kiefer Sutherland, actor
  • Elizabeth Berkley, actor
  • Bill Pullman, actor
  • Henry Cavill, actor
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, actor
  • Simon Pegg, actor
  • Christopher Walken, actor
  • Virginia Madsen, actor
  • Robert Downey, Jr., actor
  • Jonathan Rhys Meyers, actor
  • Ralph Fiennes, actor
  • Jessica Cauffiel, actor

Famous People and Celebrities with Central Heterochromia

  • Angelina Jolie, actor
  • Olivia Wilde, actor
  • Paris Jackson, model, actor, singer, musician, daughter of Michael Jackson
  • Tim Roth, actor
  • Jennifer Connelly, actor
  • Alyson Hannigan, actor
  • Harvey Keitel, actor
  • Joe Pesci, actor
  • Elizabeth McGovern, actor

Takeaway

You should always get medical attention if you experience sudden changes in the color of your eyes. This is particularly important after any traumatic event or when other symptoms like pain and blurry vision are present. Only a doctor can diagnose a disease that has altered the levels of one’s heterochromia.

However, there is no need to worry about heterochromia in most cases, and it tends not to be harmful. Heterochromia is generally not a quality of life issue, and it does not have any noticeable impact.

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