Dear Dr. Johnson: My newborn has blue eyes. I have heard they can change color. Is there a way I can tell what color they will end up and when will they stop changing color?
Dear Reader: You are not the only parent wondering this, as it is a very common question I am asked in-clinic. While not really important from a health standpoint, as one color isn’t healthier than another, it is a common feature we use to describe our general appearance. It’s even listed on our driver’s license.
When we talk about eye color, we are referring to the iris of the eye. There are melanocyte cells within the iris (as well as the hair and skin) that produce melanin. The melanin is what gives color to the iris, skin and hair.
If a large amount of melanin is produced in any of these, the eye, hair or skin are darker. If the melanocytes produce very little melanin, the opposite is true — the iris is blue, the hair is blonde and the skin is fair. A small amount of melanin produces green, gray or hazel-colored eyes.
Babies of African, Hispanic and Asian descent are often born with dark irises (brown or black) that stay dark. Caucasian babies often have gray or blue eyes at birth. It takes time for the melanocytes in their eyes to produce melanin and for the iris to become the color it was destined to be.
There are some ways to predict the likelihood of a certain eye color. Two blue-eyed parents are likely to have a child with blue eyes (though not guaranteed). Two brown-eyed parents are likely to have a child with brown eyes, but their chance of having a child with blue eyes goes up if a grandparent of the child has blue eyes. If the mother and father don’t have the same color eyes, there is no predicting the color.
Most of the color change to the iris occurs in the first 6 months of life, but don’t make any life decisions based on eye color when your baby is this age because the color can still change. By 1 year of age, you should be pretty safe, but know that subtle changes can continue to occur for a couple of years — change in shade of blue, for example, but not blue to brown.
Reasons for further evaluation would be if your child has one brown and one blue eye or if the eye color is not the same around the whole iris. There can be minor variations in color but there shouldn’t be extension of the pupil (the black part) into the iris.
Another thing to note about a baby’s eyes is that it is common for them to be cross-eyed at times during the first few months of life. Their eyes may also seem to move separately from each other at times.
In the first few weeks, a baby’s vision is so blurry they cannot focus on an object. As their vision improves over the first couple of months, they are able to track objects. By about 4 months of age, they should not appear cross-eyed unless focusing on something really close to their face, and their eyes should track together.
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Johnson to people submitting questions.
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