What Is Morning Glory Syndrome?

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Morning glory syndrome is a birth defect that affects the optic nerve in the eye and causes poor vision. It was named for the morning glory flower because of its similar appearance. Morning glory syndrome is relatively rare, affecting 2.6 out of every 100,000 people. This equals approximately 8,500 people in the United States.

This article will present information on the appearance, symptoms, causes, and treatment for morning glory syndrome.

Baby with blue eyes looking at the camera.

Olga Ignatova / Getty Images

What Morning Glory Syndrome Looks Like in the Eye

The optic nerve in the back of the eye connects your eyes to the brain. One important part of your eye anatomy is the retina, a light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye that sends the images you see to your brain. The optic disc is the part of the eye where fibers from the optic nerve exit the retina.

With morning glory syndrome, the optic disc is larger than normal and is white in the middle. More blood vessels present, and they curve as they emerge from the larger optic disc. This gives the appearance of petals from a morning glory flower.

Symptoms and Associations

Morning glory syndrome has a few eye-related and non-eye symptoms and associations. Its eye-related symptoms include:

  • Poor vision in the affected eye
  • Crossed eyes, also referred to as strabismus
  • Lazy eye, which is also called amblyopia
  • Detached retina, which is when the retina detaches from its usual supportive tissue. This complication can happen in approximately 26% to 38% of people with morning glory syndrome.

Less common eye symptoms related to morning glory syndrome include the formation of a cataract, the clouding of the eye's lens, and nystagmus, which causes involuntary and rapid eye movements.

Morning glory syndrome typically occurs in just one eye. It is more common in females. In most cases, there are no other reported family cases of morning glory syndrome.

Common Co-occuring Conditions

There are some other abnormalities associated with having morning glory syndrome. This doesn't mean that every person with morning glory syndrome will have these. It just means that they are more commonly seen in those with morning glory syndrome:

  • Brain disorders
  • Certain appearances of the head and face: This includes a wide head, wide nasal bridge, and a cleft in the upper lip.
  • Impaired breathing: This generally occurs if there is an associated protrusion of the spinal cord that affects the area connecting the nasal cavity and the pharynx.
  • Basal encephalocele: This is a congenital outpouching or bulge of the protective layers of tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord called the meninges. This protruding area contains the optic chiasm (the area where some optic nerve fibers from one eye cross with the other eye) and the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that produces certain hormones).
  • Moyamoya syndrome: This is a chronic, progressive condition affecting the arteries in the brain.
  • Neurofibromatosis type 2: This is a condition that can lead to the growth of noncancerous tumors on the nerves.
  • Other abnormalities in the arteries and the heart

Causes and Diagnosis

Researchers believe that morning glory syndrome happens because the optic nerve, which connects the eyes to the brain, does not form properly during a baby's development.

When diagnosing morning glory syndrome, it is sometimes misdiagnosed as another condition called optic disc coloboma.

If morning glory syndrome is discovered during a routine eye exam, the person affected with it also should have a brain MRI to make sure there is no involvement of the central nervous system.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for morning glory syndrome. However, healthcare providers recommend treating amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (crossed eyes) if they occur to help protect any remaining vision.

Surgery is sometimes used for amblyopia. This may provide some recovery of vision but not dramatically.

Monitoring

Monitoring morning glory syndrome and any other abnormalities that it causes usually involves monitoring by a team of specialists. These include specialists within:

  • Dentistry
  • Interventional neuroradiology
  • Neurosurgery
  • Otolaryngology (and ear nose and throat doctor, or ENT)

Summary

Morning glory syndrome is a birth defect that affects the optic nerve of the eye. Healthcare providers think it is caused by the optic nerve in the eye not forming completely during development. It causes poor vision and is often associated with other eye and non-eye problems.

There is no treatment for morning glory syndrome, but some of the problems associated with it—such as amblyopia and strabismus—can and should be treated.

Because there are several health issues associated with morning glory syndrome, there usually are several types of specialty doctors involved with the care of someone who has morning glory syndrome.

A Word From Verywell

It's normal to feel worried if you have a child who has been diagnosed with morning glory syndrome or any type of eye problem that affects vision. Make sure to keep up with all eye doctor appointments and any other specialist appointments. Ask your child's healthcare providers what you can do to best support your child.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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