It’s rare, but possible for a person’s eye color to change from brown to green later in life. This surprising transformation is usually triggered by certain medical conditions or environmental factors. While eye color is generally set by genetics, there are some interesting ways brown eyes can turn greenish as we age.
Common Causes of Eye Color Change
Here are some of the main reasons brown eyes may take on a green hue over time:
Increase of Lipochrome Pigment
Lipochrome is a yellowish pigment produced in the iris that normally combines with melanin to produce brown eyes. As we age, melanin levels may decrease while lipochrome remains constant or even increases. This can cause brown irises to become lighter and have a greenish-amber tint.
Fuch’s Heterochromic Iridocyclitis
This rare eye condition usually affects just one eye, causing the iris to gradually change from brown to blue, green, or hazel. It’s thought to be an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks pigment-producing cells in the eye. If both eyes are affected, they may both turn greenish.
Inflammation of the Iris
Certain medications, injuries, or illnesses can cause inflammation of the iris (iritis). This may damage melanocytes and alter melanin content in the eye over time. As pigmentation changes, brown eyes may shift towards green.
Pigment Dispersion Syndrome
This condition causes pigment from the iris to flake off and build up in other areas of the eye. As iris pigment cells break down and replenish, the eye color can also change. This has been seen in some cases of brown eyes turning green.
Decrease in Melanin
Aging, genetics, and environmental factors like sun exposure can all slowly reduce the melanin levels in the eyes as we get older. With less brown/black melanin pigment, eyes may gradually appear more greenish.
Is the Color Change Permanent?
In most cases, yes – changes in eye color resulting from the aging process, health conditions, or injuries are permanent. The color change occurs because of a loss of melanin or melanocytes that won’t reverse over time.
However, if environmental factors like medications or chemical exposure caused the change, stopping those may halt or reverse the color shift to some degree. Iris inflammation may also calm down and allow some brown melanin to return after a period of time.
But if melanocytes in the eye have been permanently damaged or destroyed, the change to green will be irreversible. The only way to shift the color back to brown would be through colored contact lenses or iris implants.
How Common Is It for Eyes to Change from Brown to Green?
It’s quite rare overall for adult eye color to change so dramatically. One study estimated that only around 5% of Caucasians with light brown eyes experienced lightening to green or hazel later in life.
This phenomenon is even more uncommon among Asians and Africans with naturally darker brown or black eyes. Melanin levels tend to remain more constant in darker eyes as age increases.
So while it certainly can happen in some unique cases, most people with brown eyes will stay that way over their lifetime. Green-eyed folks probably don’t need to worry about their vibrant iris color dulling with age either!
Are There Any Health Risks?
An eye color change from brown to green is not inherently dangerous on its own. But it may be a sign of underlying health conditions that do require attention:
– Fuch’s heterochromic iridocyclitis – While usually not sight-threatening, this condition can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal issues if left untreated. Medication may help control inflammation and prevent complications.
– Pigment dispersion syndrome – The pigment release can gradually damage the drainage system in the eye, increasing risk for glaucoma and higher eye pressure. Regular eye exams are important to monitor for signs of glaucoma.
– Iritis – Persistent inflammation inside the eye requires treatment as it can threaten vision over time and may be indicative of autoimmune disorders. Eye drops, steroids, or other medications may be prescribed to reduce inflammation.
Any sudden color change or difference between eyes should be evaluated promptly by an ophthalmologist. While it may just be harmless iris atrophy, timely diagnosis of underlying eye diseases like Fuch’s dystrophy is key to preserve vision.
Can Children’s Eye Color Change from Brown to Green?
It is possible but quite uncommon for a child’s established eye color to make a significant switch like brown to green after infancy. By age 1, melanin levels in the iris are generally set and eye color is stable barring any major health events.
Some exceptions where kids’ brown eyes have turned green include:
– Cases of childhood glaucoma or other eye injuries where iris inflammation from trauma caused pigmentation changes.
– Certain medications, like chloroquine to treat malaria, that may damage melanocytes.
– Hazel eyes with flecks of green and brown can appear more green in puberty as melanin production ramps up.
– Heterochromia or Waardenburg syndrome that suddenly unveils different colors between the irises.
Without these influencing factors though, pediatricians agree it’s very rare for eye color to shift during child development after about one year old.
Can Eye Color Change Back from Green to Brown?
If the process of depigmentation is gradual and irreversible, then no – the eye color change from brown to green will be permanent. The melanocytes and melanin that give brown eyes their color are gone for good.
But if environmental factors like medications or chemical exposure caused the brown to green shift, stopping those may allow melanin levels to rise again and eye color to partially revert back to brown:
– Discontinuing certain anti-malarial or antibiotic medications may help melanin production return.
– Reducing exposure to industrial chemicals linked to pigment change could halt damage to melanocytes.
– Treating inflamed irises may calm symptoms and allow melanin to replenish after being suppressed by inflammation.
– Pigment dispersion syndrome may slow and stop releasing pigment as pressure stabilizes through glaucoma treatment.
In these scenarios, enough melanocytes may still be intact and able to regenerate melanin when the impacting agent goes away. But if those key pigment-producing cells have died off, the green color will be permanent.
The Takeaway on Brown Turning Green
While very uncommon, brown eyes turning green – or getting flecks of green – can happen for a variety of intriguing reasons. Aging, genetics, medications, and random cases of iris inflammation may all play a role in alterations of eye color.
If you notice your brown eyes getting hints of green, schedule an exam promptly. An ophthalmologist can check for any underlying conditions and determine if the change is harmless or indicative of other eye health issues that may need treatment. In most cases though, enjoy the unexpected splash of color!
The transformation from brown to green eyes is an intriguing process that offers insight into genetics, aging, and eye anatomy. While quite rare overall, this switch does periodically occur due to reduced melanin, inflammation, trauma, medications, and other factors that impact iris pigmentation over one’s lifetime.
If you’ve noticed your eye color changing from dark brown to a hazel or greenish hue, it’s a good idea to see an ophthalmologist and discuss possible causes. They can determine if it’s harmless iris atrophy versus something more serious like pigmentary glaucoma.
While the change is typically permanent, some cases can reverse back towards brown if caught early. Regardless of whether they stay green or not, make sure to monitor your eyes closely and get routine eye exams as you age. Healthy eyes are vital for enjoying and experiencing life’s beautiful colors!
|Cause of Color Change||Description|
|Lipochrome increase||Yellow pigment in the iris increases, combining with reduced melanin to produce greenish color.|
|Fuch’s heterochromic iridocyclitis||Autoimmune disorder damages melanocytes and alters melanin content.|
|Iris inflammation||Medications, injuries, or illness cause inflammation that reduces melanin.|
|Pigment Dispersion Syndrome||Iris pigment flakes off and eye color changes as pigment cells replenish.|
|Melanin decrease||Aging, sun exposure, and genetics reduce melanin pigment over time.|