What Is Metamorphopsia?
Metamorphopsia (or metamorphosis) is the scientific name given to the condition where a person develops characteristics of several different species at one time. There are many types of metamorphosis, but they all have common features such as:
1. A change in skin color or texture;
2. Hair growth;
3. Eyes changing colors; and/or
4. Other physical changes.
The term “metamorphosis” comes from the Greek word for transformation, which means that a person undergoes a change into something else. For example, when someone grows hair, it’s called hair growth. When they grow scales on their body, it’s called scales growth. These transformations may occur gradually over time or suddenly and permanently.
There are three main categories of metamorphosis:
1. Skin Color Change – Some people develop a pale or light complexion while others develop dark or black skin.
Usually these changes occur gradually over time, but sometimes they happen overnight.
Skin color change is often accompanied by other symptoms like itching, redness, swelling and pain.
2. Eye Changes – Eye changes or metamorphopsia can involve a number of different vision disturbances including:
a. Blue Eyes – in some cases one eye may turn blue while the other remains its natural color.
b. Glowing Eyes – in other cases, both eyes turn completely black or glow in the dark.
c. Eye Pain – some people experience severe eye pain along with other symptoms of blue or glowing eyes.
d. Eye Discharge – in some cases, an eye discharge results in blurry vision that may impair one’s eyesight.
e. Wavy Vision Lines – in rare cases, some people develop wavy vision lines when they look at objects or people. These vision lines sometimes appear as if they are moving.
f. Eye Itching – eye itching is a common symptom of eye changes. These itches can come and go, sometimes lasting for years.
g. Eye Sockets – in some cases, the eye sockets may change color to white or black. In other cases, the eye sockets may even disappear altogether, making eyes seem to “disappear.”
3. Physical Appearance Changes – Some people experience changes in their facial features.
For example, some people may grow whiskers or other facial hair. In other cases, scars may appear or disappear while skin conditions like acne or psoriasis may worsen, improve or change altogether.
What causes metamorphopsia?
The medical community remains divided on what exactly causes metamorphopsia. To date, no one knows for sure. The leading medical theories are described below:
1. Eye Injury Theory – the first theory about what causes metamorphopsia was that it was caused by eye injuries.
In fact, in the past, if a person had these symptoms they would be sent to an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) so that they could have their eyes checked for signs of injury. If an eye injury was found, the ophthalmologist might prescribe eye drops or medication to heal it.
However, as eye drops and other treatments failed to cure the condition, other theories were posited:
2. Innate Brain Disorder Theory – the second theory states that metamorphopsia is not actually a physical condition at all, but rather a disorder of the brain.
A person with a brain disorder may suffer from these symptoms, but the cause is internal rather than external.
The most popular theory of what causes metamorphopsia in this category is that it is caused by slight misfirings in the brain. These misfirings cause signals in the optic nerve to become mixed up, resulting in distorted vision.
3. Eye Nerve Irritation Theory – the third theory states that metamorphopsia is a form of eye irritation or inflammation.
This irritation causes swelling in the nerves of the eye, leading to a number of different vision disturbances.
4. Autosomal Dominant Optic Atrophy (ADOA) Syndrome – some people with metamorphopsia have been found to have a rare genetic condition called autosomal dominant optic atrophy (ADOA) syndrome.
This syndrome causes the same symptoms as listed above.
The good news about this condition is that it is very rare and one would need to have the genetic mutation for it in order to develop the symptoms. However, the bad news is that once you have the symptoms of metamorphopsia from this disorder there is no known treatment or cure at this time.
5. Side Effects of Certain Drugs – in some cases, certain drugs have been known to cause these symptoms in people.
These drugs include certain types of anesthetics, as well as some types of prescription antibiotics (such as tetracycline or demeclocycline). If you have recently had surgery and developed these symptoms afterwards, let your doctor know as the cause may be a reaction to the anesthetic.
6. Eye Problems – it is also possible to have these symptoms and not have any underlying cause.
In these cases, the person likely has an eye disorder such as a lazy eye or a “crossed eye.” In other cases, the cause may be due to long-term eye strain (such as that caused by staring at a computer screen for many hours a day) or even natural aging of the eyes.
Over-the-counter eye drops are a common treatment for these types of issues. These drops lubricate the eye and reduce any irritation or inflammation that may be present. Your eye doctor may also prescribe stronger medications if needed. In some cases, eye surgery may be recommended to repair longer-term damage caused by an eye injury or an underlying eye disorder.
7. Vitamin A Deficiency – in some rare cases, metamorphopsia has been linked with vitamin A deficiency.
While once a very common cause of blindness, vitamin A deficiency is now very rare in developed nations that implement food fortification programs.
However, if you have other symptoms of vitamin A deficiency (mainly night blindness), your doctor may perform blood tests to rule out this and other causes.
How Is It Treated?
Most cases of metamorphopsia are fairly harmless, and resolve on their own within a few days. If this is the case, your doctor may advise you to rest your eyes, avoid strenuous activity, apply cool compresses or over-the-counter eye drops, and maintain a nutritious diet.
In more severe cases, your doctor may refer you to an eye specialist (such as an ophthalmologist) for further evaluation and treatment. Long-term vision problems may be treated with eye medications, corrective eyewear or even eye surgery.
In some cases, the cause is linked to an underlying condition such as liver disease and your doctor may refer you to a medical specialist for treatment of this condition. In other rarer cases, the cause of metamorphopsia has been linked to a vitamin deficiency and correcting this nutritional imbalance can reverse the symptoms.
Sources & references used in this article:
Quantification of metamorphopsia in patients with epiretinal membranes by C Matsumoto, E Arimura, S Okuyama… – … & visual science, 2003 – arvojournals.org
Correlation between metamorphopsia and epiretinal membrane optical coherence tomography findings by A Watanabe, S Arimoto, O Nishi – Ophthalmology, 2009 – Elsevier
Retinal contraction and metamorphopsia scores in eyes with idiopathic epiretinal membrane by E Arimura, C Matsumoto, S Okuyama… – … & visual science, 2005 – iovs.arvojournals.org
Associations between metamorphopsia and foveal microstructure in patients with epiretinal membrane by F Okamoto, Y Sugiura, Y Okamoto… – … & visual science, 2012 – iovs.arvojournals.org
Metamorphopsia in patients with macular telangiectasia type 2 by PC Issa, FG Holz, HPN Scholl – Documenta ophthalmologica, 2009 – Springer
Metamorphopsia: an overlooked visual symptom by E Midena, S Vujosevic – Ophthalmic research, 2016 – karger.com
Method and apparatus for measuring and correcting metamorphopsia by KA Stevens – US Patent 5,892,570, 1999 – Google Patents
Quantification of metamorphopsia in a macular hole patient using M‐CHARTS™ by E Arimura, C Matsumoto, S Okuyama… – Acta …, 2007 – Wiley Online Library
Time course of changes in metamorphopsia, visual acuity, and OCT parameters after successful epiretinal membrane surgery by T Kinoshita, H Imaizumi, U Okushiba… – … & visual science, 2012 – tvst.arvojournals.org