Do you know how many people have blue eyes? Only 17% of the global population has blue eyes but according to research and surveys it is a trait desired by a large majority of the population.
Currently there are a couple of different methods for people with brown eyes to appear to have blue eyes, these include having artificial iris implant surgery (not recommended) or just using coloured contact lenses.
A new, non-invasive laser treatment has been developed by an American company, Strōma Medical. The Strōma Medical Corporation was founded back in 2009 in California and the ultimate result from their treatment is to turn brown eyes to blue.
The laser targets the melanin in the iris of the eye and breaks down the pigment in the outer layers. It is this pigment that gives eyes, hair and skin their colour. It is the breaking down of this pigment that will result in the eyes looking blue.
Greg Homer, one of the doctors developing and testing the laser explained ‘the fundamental principle is that under every brown eye is a blue eye. The only difference between a brown eye and a blue eye is a very thin layer of pigment on the surface. If you take that pigment away, the light can then enter the stroma (the little fibres that look like bicycle spokes that you can see in light eyes), when the light then scatters it only reflects the shortest wavelength which are at the blue end of the spectrum.
According to Strōma Medical’s website the laser procedure only takes 20 seconds to perform but the full colour change takes four weeks to fully develop. The surgery does not actually remove the outer layer of the iris, it only disrupts the delicate layer of pigment on the iris. The body then starts to remove the tissue naturally which is why it can take several weeks before the eyes appear blue.
The surgery is said to be painless and there is no recovery time needed. The procedure is performed using local anaesthetic eye drops which numb the eyes and prevent irritation, a mini-speculum is also used to hold the eyelids open.
Greg Homer has assured that ‘it is difficult to injure someone with this laser because the energy is so low.’ The laser is directed to only treat the iris and doesn’t enter the eye, avoiding the nerves that control your vision. The medical board of Strōma Medical have stated that the surgery is safe according to their initial testing, however, so far only 37 patients have undergone this new treatment, 17 of the trial patients were from Mexico and the other 20 from Costa Rica.
Dr David Alessi, a plastic surgeon says ‘The company may be right in assuming that it will do no harm because of the low energy used but, when it comes to one’s eyesight, there is no room for assumptions.’
The regulatory bodies in the USA and the FDA have yet to approve the procedure and there is still a lot of speculation about the safety of the treatment. Ophthalmologists are extremely skeptical as it is an irreversible procedure and the eyes are one of the most sensitive organs in the human body.
There are several factors that raise concern, such as:
The main concern is the increased risk of glaucoma. Elevated eye pressure secondary to pigmentary glaucoma occurs when large pieces of pigment are dislodged, usually by abrasion, these are then too big to drain away from the eye and cause an increase in pressure by blocking the eye’s usual drainage pathways. If this happens over a long enough period and at a significant level this can result in the pressure in the patients eye increasing, the outcome of this is the development of glaucoma and damage to the optic nerve. Ophthalmologists are worried that the melanin pigment that is released inside the eye from the laser treatment may cause blockage to the normal drainage channels. Strōma Medical have assured that the particles are too small to cause any blockage.
Dr Kamran Riaz, Director of refractive surgery in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the University of Chicago says he has ‘strong concerns that the risks of the procedure will significantly outweigh any real or imaginary benefits.’ He is also ‘extremely concerned about the advertising on Strōma Medical’s website that seems to suggest that not having blue eyes is simply a matter of ‘extra pigment’ that can be easily removed.’
The company is still in the fundraising stage and will not fully complete their medical trials for several years. Strōma Medical claim that their preliminary studies suggest it is a safe procedure but it is essential that a wider range of patients undergo the surgery and are studied for a long period of time.
Greg Homer says there is no shortage of potential customers waiting for the irreversible procedure and that anyone can qualify for the procedure, regardless of nationality or race. The irreversible surgery is predicted to cost a total of $5,000, which is equivalent to around £3,750.
As with any cosmetic surgery there are also ethical queries raised. One ethicist professional from Rush University Medical Centre has said there is a large difference between using plastic surgery for reconstruction after burns and other major injuries and using it for cosmetic reasons, such as superficial looks that are solely desired by the individual.
Greg Homer has said, ‘It’s not a goal of our company to promote blue eyes. The people who seem most vigilant about pursuing this always have a story about being young and in the presence of a sibling or friend who had light eyes and being told how beautiful they are, and it sticks with them. Would it be better for them to get over it? Probably. All your problems don’t go away because you’ve changed your eye colour, but I do believe that people like to express themselves in a certain way and its nice when they have the freedom to do that.’
Coloured contact lenses are currently the most common method, and probably the safest, used to change eye colour. The change is only temporary as you place a thin disc of plastic on your eye, the lens is clear so you can see through it but it’s coloured using paint. There are dangers of using coloured contact lenses if they are not used properly. You can read more about this in our previous blog post.
Iris implant surgery is another method to get blue eyes, it involves implanting an artificial iris. It has had very little success with almost all cases where iris implant surgery has been carried out ending in disaster. Iris implant surgery is not approved by the FDA and is not legal to be performed in the UK or most of Europe. The majority of ophthalmologists strongly caution against the procedure. It has been found that the risks of iris implant surgery vastly outweigh any benefits of the surgery. The surgery involves making an incision in the cornea and then inserting a plastic iris over the natural iris. The surgery has been known to often cause reduced vision and even blindness in several cases as well as glaucoma, cataracts and injuries to the cornea amongst many other problems. Most people who undergo this surgery then have to have the implant removed.
Mr Ali Mearza, laser eye surgeon, has removed over 10 of these implants and has published several cases of these implants causing problems. He has also widely publicized the dangers in professional forums and meetings as well as in National Newspapers and on Television. One lady who went to Panama to have the surgery and then returned to London virtually blind recounted her story on E4’s “Greatest Plastic Surgery Shockers”. He’s removed so many, he’s even developed a modified removal technique.
Mr Mearza’s opinion on iris colour change surgery for the sake of changing colour is simple, “Don’t do it. The dangers outweigh the risk and eyesight is too precious a sense to take these kinds of risks. There are no formal trials with clear safety data at present so best to steer well clear for the time being.”