What is central heterochromia?

Rather than have one distinct eye color, people with central heterochromia have a different color near the border of their pupils.

A person with this condition may have a shade of gold around the border of their pupil in the center of their iris, with the rest of their iris another color. It’s this other color that is the person’s true eye color.

Read on to learn how this condition differs from other types of heterochromia, what may cause it, and how it’s treated.

Central heterochromia is just one type of heterochromia, an umbrella term that refers to having different eye colors. The other types of heterochromia are complete and segmental.

Complete heterochromia

People with complete heterochromia have eyes that are completely different colors. That is, one eye may be green and their other eye brown, blue, or another color.

Segmental heterochromia

This type of heterochromia is similar to central heterochromia. But instead of affecting the area around the pupil, segmental heterochromia affects a larger portion of the iris. It can occur in one or both eyes.

To understand possible causes of central heterochromia, and heterochromia in general, you need to look at the relationship between melanin and eye color. Melanin is a pigment that gives human skin and hair their color. A person with fair skin has less melanin than a person with dark skin.

Melanin also determines eye color. People with less pigment in their eyes have a lighter eye color than someone with more pigment. If you have heterochromia, the amount of melanin in your eyes varies. This variation causes different colors in different parts of your eye. The exact cause of this variation is unknown.

Central heterochromia often occurs sporadically at birth. It can appear in someone with no family history of heterochromia. In most cases, it’s a benign condition not caused by an eye disease, nor does it affect vision. So it doesn’t require any type of treatment or diagnosis.

Some people develop heterochromia later in life, however. This is known as acquired heterochromia, and it may occur from an underlying condition such as:

  • eye injury
  • eye inflammation
  • bleeding in the eye
  • tumors of the iris
  • Horner’s syndrome (neurological disorder that affects the eye)
  • diabetes
  • pigment dispersion syndrome (pigment released into the eye)

Any change in eye color that occurs later in life should be examined by a doctor or ophthalmologist, a specialist in eye health.

Your doctor may complete a comprehensive eye examination to check for abnormalities. This includes a visual test and an examination of your pupils, peripheral vision, eye pressure, and optic nerve. Your doctor may also suggest an optical coherence tomography (OCT), which is a noninvasive imaging test that creates cross-sectional pictures of your retina.

Treatment for acquired heterochromia depends on the underlying cause of the condition. No treatment is necessary when a visual exam or imaging test doesn’t find an abnormality.

Central heterochromia may be a rare condition, but it’s typically benign. In most cases, it doesn’t affect vision or cause any health complications. However, when central heterochromia occurs later in life, it may be a sign of an underlying condition. In this instance, seek medical attention for a possible diagnosis and treatment options.