The iris and the eye's pigment

With review and feedback from CEENTA Ophthalmologist Robert Saltzmann, MD (SouthPark, Belmont)

The color of your eyes is one of the first things people notice when they see you. That color is related to the iris, the front layer of the round, smooth muscle that controls the size of your pupil. But how can problems with your iris cause glaucoma issues?

What makes your eyes colorful?

The colored part of the eye is called the iris. The iris squeezes or relaxes to let more or less light through your pupil. It receives its color from melanin, the same pigment that gives you your skin color.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an optic nerve disease often caused by pressure buildup inside the eye. The most common form of glaucoma is primary open-angle glaucoma, in which the aqueous fluid is blocked from flowing back out of the eye at a normal rate through a tiny drainage system.

How can the pigment affect your drainage?

Robert Saltzmann, MD

Sometimes, if the iris comes into contact with and chafes against the lens of the eye that sits just behind it, the pigment can rub off the back layer of the iris and float around the rest of the eye. This is called pigment dispersion syndrome. In some cases, if enough of that pigment accumulates as it flows through the meshwork that comprises the drainage angle, it can clog the plumbing system of the eye, which can cause the pressure buildup that leads to glaucoma. This particular case is called pigmentary glaucoma.

It is important to note, however, that only 15% of those with pigment dispersion syndrome will develop pigmentary glaucoma, CEENTA glaucoma specialist Robert Saltzmann, MD, said.

What are the symptoms of pigment dispersion syndrome?

While most people don’t have symptoms, some have noted blurred vision or seeing halos after they exercise.

What are the symptoms of pigmentary glaucoma?

As with traditional glaucoma, pigmentary glaucoma displays no symptoms until after the optic nerve is damaged and vision is impaired.

Who is at risk for pigment dispersion syndrome?

While pigment dispersion syndrome can be hereditary, it is most often seen in nearsighted people with certain anatomy involving backward bowing of the iris (placing it in contact with the lens). It is more prevalent in males and Caucasians, and typically occurs during a person’s twenties and thirties.

How are these conditions treated?

The lack of symptoms in both pigment dispersion syndrome and pigmentary glaucoma makes annual eye exams all the more important. Catching them early can help prevent future vision loss. Fortunately, if there is no intraocular pressure change, usually no treatment is needed. However, if it is causing pressure change, glaucoma treatment is warranted. This can include eyedrops or laser treatments.

Glaucoma care and more at CEENTA

Come to CEENTA for your annual eye exams. Our doctors can detect pigment dispersion syndrome and any possible glaucoma issues, and develop a treatment plan to preserve your sight. Don’t let pigment dispersion syndrome or any other drainage problems damage your eyes. Schedule an appointment today.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. New patients can make appointments online with our eye doctors in North and South Carolina. Current patients can also make appointments through myCEENTAchart with physicians they have already seen.


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