The Dangers of Cosmetic Iris Implants

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Have you ever wondered what you’d look like with a different eye color?

For many people, it’s an intriguing proposition. And it explains the continuing interest in a dangerous — and illegal in the United States — procedure known as cosmetic iris implant surgery.

What are cosmetic iris implants?

Iris implant surgery involves making an incision in the cornea and inserting an artificial and different-colored silicone iris through it, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). The person performing the procedure then unfolds the silicone iris into place above the existing iris.

Originally, the procedure was developed to help individuals with an undeveloped iris due to conditions such as coloboma (a condition where normal tissue in or around the eye is missing at birth) or aniridia (the absence of an iris).

However, it soon gained popularity as a cosmetic treatment to change existing eye color.

“Even though the procedure was developed in the United States, it does not have FDA approval for cosmetic use because of the high risks to the patient,” says Guillermo Amescua, M.D., a cornea specialist at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. “We have seen quite a few patients who have undergone this surgery in other countries and then come to see us after they have developed serious complications.”

Frankly, it's not worth the risk

There is a simple reason that cosmetic implant eye surgery has never gained FDA approval in the U.S., says Dr. Amescua – too many potential complications.

According to data from the AAO, patients who undergo the procedure in other countries run the risk of developing:

  • Eye inflammation and pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Reduced vision
  • Corneal injuries
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Blindness

And if you want to remove the implants, you face additional risks of damage to the eye. The American Society for Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) says that the implants frequently damage the iris and other parts of the eye. Other surgeries are needed after the implant removal, including cataract surgery, glaucoma surgery, and endothelial corneal transplantation. One estimate indicated that as many as nine of every 14 patients would need to have the implants removed.

The bottom line? Cosmetic iris implants are bad

Traveling to another country for a medical procedure that is illegal in the United States, such as cosmetic iris implant surgery, is strongly discouraged due to the high risks involved. “People should be aware of the dangers involved, including chronic inflammation, glaucoma, cataracts, and corneal decompensation, to name a few,” he adds. Many websites providing misleading information about the surgery and falsely describe it as safe, he says.

Perhaps equally alarming is the fact that many people are unaware of the risks of the procedure. In a 2013 survey published by the American Academy of Optometry, 37% of the 136 respondents expressed a desire to have a different eye color. And 87.5% of the group did not know that cosmetic iris implant surgery was dangerous.

Be careful with contact lenses, too

Many people who want a different eye color believe that colored contact lenses are a safer option But the AAO recommends only wearing contact lenses that have been prescribed by an eye-care professional. Colored or decorative contact lenses that are sold over the counter have inherent risks and are illegal in the United States.


Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.


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