Red Flags: 7 Life-Threatening Health Conditions that Your Eyes Reveal
The eyes are the window to the soul, claim scientists, and they reveal a lot about someone’s character, fortune and personality. Patterns in the iris can give an indication of whether someone is warm and trusting or neurotic and impulsive, scientists at Orebro University in Sweden discovered a decade ago.
Daniel Richardson, a neuroscientist at the University College London who led a study that found eye movements facilitate memory retrieval, says “the eyes are like a window into our thought processes, and “they could potentially reveal things that a person might want to suppress, such as implicit racial bias.”
Well, the eyes are not just a mirror of your soul, personality, or thoughts; they are the mirror of your health as well. Experts say your eyes hold clues to serious, underlying, undiagnosed, life-threatening health conditions if only you look closely at the early warning signs to find if something is wrong with your body.
So, how do you know if there is more to your health than meets the eye? Dr. Mark Lipton, director of optometry at Beach Eye Care in Virginia Beach, explains some of the red flags you should watch out for:
Doctors call this condition exophthalmos, and it’s a common sign of Grave’s disease, often the underlying cause of hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid gland. Other potential causes of bulging eyes include neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that can affect your sympathetic nervous system; leukemia, a type of cancer that can affect your white blood cells; rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that can develop in your soft tissues; metastatic tumors from a cancer elsewhere in the body; and connective tissue diseases such as sarcoidosis.
Usually, a lump in the eyelid or sty appears due to a blocked sebaceous gland and usually goes away within a few days. But if a sty occurs often or persists for a long time, it can be a symptom of basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of eyelid cancer; squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that develops in the cells of the outer layer of the skin; sebaceous gland carcinoma, cancer of the glands in the eyelid; and malignant melanoma, the most aggressive and life-threatening skin cancer.
Although it may result from abnormalities such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia, or astigmatism, blurred vision can also be a symptom of migraine and stroke. High blood sugar or diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels in your retina, the part of your eye that senses light, and causes diabetic retinopathy (which is a leading cause of poor vision and blindness). If you are pregnant, you should not take blurry vision lightly; it could be a sign of preeclampsia, a dangerous condition marked by very high blood pressure.
The gray ring around the edge of the cornea, which doctors call arcus senilis, is a sign of high cholesterol and high triglycerides – and an increased risk for heart attack and stroke – in younger adults. In older adults, the gray corneal ring may be caused by fat (lipid) deposits in the periphery of the cornea stromal layer.
A drooping eye can indicate Bell’s Palsy, a temporary facial paralysis. In rare cases, it could also be evidence of brain tumor or myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder characterized by muscle weakness. Droopy eyelids (which doctors call ptosis) and pupils of different sizes (aneisocoria) are a sign of Horner’s syndrome, which is caused by aneurysms (excessive localized enlargement of an artery) and tumors in the neck.
Liver conditions, including hepatitis and cirrhosis, can turn the whites of your eyes yellow. The yellow discoloration is caused by buildup of bilirubin, a chemical created by the breakdown of hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying molecule inside red blood cells) or the liver’s inability to process old red blood cells. When the whites of your eyes start to turn yellow, it is termed as jaundice. However, jaundice can be a sign of a variety of serious and potentially life-threatening medical conditions, and not just liver disorders.
Ectopia lentis or partial lens dislocation is a key symptom and often the first sign of Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue in the body. Dr. John C. Hagan, a Kansas City-based ophthalmologist, says it’s vital that Marfan Syndrome is diagnosed as soon as possible, as the disorder is associated with weakness of the wall of the aorta (the main artery in the human body); and a rupture of the aorta is likely to be fatal, he adds.