Can albino people have blue eyes

Red eyes? - Blue eyes!

Red eyes and white hair - for many this is the classic image of an albino. But they are neither pronounced in everyone, nor are they the only characteristics of albinism. Since the clinical picture was first described in 1908 by Archibald Garrod, an English physicist, and genetic mutations were named as the cause, researchers have also learned a lot.

African woman with albinism from Mali © Rick Guidotti

It is now known that albinism comprises a heterogeneous group of different genetic defects with very different effects and symptoms. This means that on the one hand there is not just one gene mutation that causes the disorder, but numerous, on the other hand the externally recognizable characteristics of those affected can be very different.

Missing dye melanin

However, all individuals with the genetic defect albinism have one thing in common: the body produces very little or no melanin at all. In principle, this pigment is responsible for the color of hair, eyes, feathers or skin in all living things. It also provides the coloring for microorganisms and even plants.

Usually the melanin is stored in the top layer of the skin, in the iris and in the hair. In this way, the cell nuclei of the skin cells and the DNA in them, and in humans the hair-covered head and eyes, are protected from UV rays. Depending on the skin type, our skin contains more or less of the protective pigment. Regardless of this, melanin can also be produced “as required”: The suntan that is so popular with many people is basically nothing more than a kind of “self-defense” of the skin against the sun.

No red eyes!

In albinism, the production of valuable melanin is blocked and very little or no pigment is produced. As a result, skin and hair appear very light or even white. A common misconception is that albinos have red eyes. This is wrong. The iris of albinos, whether human or animal, is blue, sometimes blue-gray or green-brown. The eyes only appear red when light falls into the eye at a certain angle and the blood vessels in the eye are "illuminated" due to the lack of pigment - exactly the same effect occurs with people with normal pigmentation from the flash of photo cameras. The conclusion "This is not an albino because this person or animal does not have red eyes" is therefore also a mistake.

Siblings - with and without albinism © Rick Guidotti

Dr. Barbara Käsmann-Kellner, professor at the University Eye Clinic Homburg, knows how complex the manifestations of albinism can be. She specializes in research on albinism and admits: "Even doctors often only have the white-haired pattern in mind and overlook the disease when those affected deviate from this pattern."

Käsmann-Kellner himself has examined over 400 patients with albinism to date. “There are around 4,500”, she estimates, “in Germany. A person under 18,000 is affected here ”.

Broad spectrum

A third of albinists suffer from so-called oculocutaneous albinism, or OCA for short. Here the eyes as well as the skin and hair are affected by the lack of pigment. But the spectrum of this form of albinism ranges from completely white to normally pigmented, dark blonde hair, from almost colorless to tan skin including freckles, from light gray to green eyes - depending on whether too little or no melanin can be formed .

But there are also cases in which the lack of melanin only affects the eyes, so-called ocular albinism, OA. The eyes of these people are also not red, but blue, gray, green or brown, and can be illuminated. Therefore they can appear red in certain light. In contrast to oculocutaneous albinism, the skin and hair of those affected do not differ in any way from those of those with normal pigmentation.

Status: May 26, 2006

May 26, 2006