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A Look Into What Your Eyes Say About Your Health

What Do Your Eyes Say About Your Health?

A smidge of red in the whites of your eyes can indicate a seasonal allergy or a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. A yellow tinge indicates jaundice while blue hints at Addison's disease, osteogenesis imperfecta, heart disease, or cancer. The color of your irises are determined by genetics but changes in them indicate Horner’s syndrome or Fuchs’ heterochromic iridocyclitis. Blurry vision, styes, and droopy eyes also hint at serious disorders.

What usually first strikes you about a person is their eyes. Whether they are vivid, dramatic, or dull, eyes can leave an impression and are rightly considered a window to your soul. Can they also reveal how well your body is working, though? While the color of the iris – whether it’s a brilliant blue, a mesmerizing green, or a warm hazel – makes a quick impact, it’s the color of the whites of the eye that holds the secret to your health.

The Color Of Your Whites Can Indicate Underlying Ailments

1. Red

If you don’t get enough sleep and have strained your eyes, whether at work or play, red eyes are inevitable. This usually wears off in a day. If it persists, red, swollen eyes with or without discharge indicate an inflammation of the outer layers of the eye. The blood vessels in the eye dilate in response to a stimulus and cause the redness and pain. This reddishness is generally termed “conjunctivitis” as it impacts the conjunctiva in the eye. The causes could be as varied as:

  • A seasonal allergy
  • A foreign particle in the eye
  • An infection due to improper use of contact lenses
  • A bacterial, viral, or fungal disease.1

The normal recourse is antibiotics if it’s a bacterial infection. If you find that it’s getting worse and there is sudden, sharp pain in the eye, blurry vision, or an inflammation, do get yourself proper medical attention promptly.2

2. Yellow

If you complain of fatigue, nausea, and fever, chances are your grandma will check the whites of your eyes. A yellow tinge is the most widely known symptom of jaundice. This happens due to the buildup of toxic bilirubin in the body, as the liver is unable to help excrete it all. Along with the eyes, the skin and mucous membranes also develop a characteristic yellow tinge. If you notice some of these symptoms, a visit to the doctor’s office should be your immediate move.3

3. Baby Blue

If you find yourself looking in the mirror and seeing blue-tinged eyes, it can be due to a variety of reasons such as:

  • Thinning of the top layer of the eye (sclera), an indicator of heart disease or cancer, can cause the eyes to appear bluish.4
  • Addison’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the adrenal glands, can cause the eyes to appear bluish and discolored, among other things.5
  • Genetic conditions such as osteogenesis imperfecta or Marfan’s syndrome can also cause eye discoloration bordering on a bluish tinge.6
  • A variety of medication, especially of the steroid family, can cause eye discoloration, as can anti-allergy eye drops. Likewise, exposure to silver or ingestion of silver powder, leading to a condition called argyria, is also believed to be a trigger.7

Changes In The Color Of Your Irises May Be A Cause For Concern

What about the basic color of your eyes – does it mean anything if you have blue, green, or black eyes? The color of your iris is solely determined by genes. Some research indicates that those with dark irises can perform better in sports as they have better motor skills.8 Another study claims that people who have darker eyes can hear slightly better than people with lighter eyes.9 You’ll also find several hypotheses on eye color dictating character traits and susceptibility to certain diseases. For instance, people with light eyes are thought to be more prone to age-related macular degeneration than those with darker eyes.10 But the researchers are quick to point out that the evidence is not conclusive and other genetic and environmental markers may be at play. For now, your eye color is pretty much indicative of the DNA code you were born with.

But what if you’ve noticed changes in your eye color of late? While the color of the iris is genetically determined by melanin pigments or melanocytes, any change in the color could be a cause for concern. A dip or rise in melanocytes may be a symptom of Horner’s syndrome or Fuchs’ heterochromic iridocyclitis, impacting iris color. It’s best to consult a doctor to also rule out diseases like glaucoma if you sense a change in color.11

Swelling, Sores, And Vision Problems Also Indicate Serious Disorders

Besides paying attention to the whites of your eyes or changes in the color of your irises, here are a few other signs of underlying diseases that you should watch out for:

  • Blurry, faulty vision: Temporary blurred vision doesn’t generally indicate anything serious. And if your vision problems are accompanied with a headache, it could indicate that you are suffering from a migraine. But, if you’re over 60, it could be a sign of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is also called a ministroke. In addition to this, if you’re diabetic and have blurry vision, it could be a sign of diabetic retinopathy, a condition that could lead to blindness. Do consult a professional if you’re worried about your cloudy vision being a sign of a deeper problem.12
  • Painful styes: These formed when the oil glands on your eyelid get clogged with gunk, resulting in a large red bump. Although a stye is usually harmless and goes away on its own, persistent styes must be checked for a possible carcinoma (cancer) of the sebaceous cell, basal cell, or meibomian gland.13
  • Watery eyes: If your eyes have been excessively watery (maybe even itchy) you might be experiencing an allergic reaction. Consult a doctor so you can pinpoint what it is that you’re allergic to and treat it.14
  • Droopy eyelids: Aging and the long-term effects of gravity can cause stretching of a wide, tendon-like tissue that helps the levator muscle lift the eyelid. But more serious conditions associated with this symptom include progressive muscle weakness that can spread to the arms, legs, and other facial muscles as well as an inherited muscle disease called oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy that affects eye motion and can cause difficulty swallowing. Besides this, it could also hint at a stroke, brain tumor, a brain aneurysm (a grapelike swelling on a blood vessel inside the brain), and nerve damage related to long-term diabetes. Yet another cause could be Horner’s syndrome, which leads to an abnormally small pupil and loss of the ability to sweat on half the face and can be caused due to a cancerous tumor at the top of a lung. Be sure to head to a doctor if your eyelids have been drooping of late.15
  • Bulging eyes: If your eye has been bulging of late or if you’ve been experiencing difficulty shutting your eyelids you might have an overactive thyroid gland. You might also experience some redness.16

Taking Care Of Your Eyes Is Important For Good Eye Health

The eyes are a very sensitive and powerful organ. Many of us, be it due to our lifestyle or a lack of awareness, take very little care of them. When working on electronic devices, it is important to take a break every 30 minutes and rest the eyes, failing which you may develop itchy, dry eyes. Tanking up on foods that help keep eyes and vision healthy is also important. Compounds such as lutein present in corn, egg yolks, and in several fruits and veggies (carrots, berries, beets, broccoli etc.) can help keep eyes healthy.17 Blinking at frequent intervals, exercising your eye muscles, and even visiting an eye doctor regularly can all go to keeping your eyes happy and healthy. Also, remember, any slight changes in eye hue can also reveal what’s going on inside your body. Do watch out for these signs and get them sorted, giving your eyes and your body the attention they deserve!

References   [ + ]

1. Leibowitz, Howard M. “The red eye.” New England Journal of Medicine 343, no. 5 (2000): 345-351.
2. Red Eye. Merck Manuals, Colby, Katherine.
3. Roche, Sean P., and Rebecca Kobos. “Jaundice in the adult patient.” American family physician 69, no. 2 (2004): 299-308.
4. Wilke, Andreas, Otto Dapunt, and Dietmar Steverding. “Bluish-Black Pigmentation of the Sclera and the Aortic Valve in a Patient with Alkaptonuric Ochronosis.” Herz 35, no. 1 (2010): 41-41.
5. The Whites of My Eyes Have Turned Blue! American Academy of Opthalmology.
6. The Whites of My Eyes Have Turned Blue! American Academy of Opthalmology.
7. Wadhera, Akhil, and Max Fung. “Systemic argyria associated with ingestion of colloidal silver.” Dermatology Online Journal 11, no. 1 (2005).
8. Rowe, P. Joanne, and Philip Evans. “Ball color, eye color, and a reactive motor skill.” Perceptual and motor skills 79, no. 1 (1994): 671-674.
9. Carter, N. L. “Eye colour and susceptibility to noise-induced permanent threshold shift.” Audiology 19, no. 1 (1980): 86-93.
10. Frank, Robert N., James E. Puklin, Christopher Stock, and Larisa A. Canter. “Race, iris color, and age-related macular degeneration.” Transactions of the American Ophthalmological Society 98 (2000): 109.
11. Imesch, Pascal D., Ingolf HL Wallow, and Daniel M. Albert. “The color of the human eye: a review of morphologic correlates and of some conditions that affect iridial pigmentation.” Survey of ophthalmology 41 (1997): S117-S123.
12. Ask the doctor: Blurry vision and headache. Harvard Health Publishing.
13. Hordeolum (Stye) & Chalazion. The University Of Chicago.
14. What’s causing your itching, teary eyes? Harvard Health Publishing.
15. Drooping Eyelid (Ptosis). Harvard Health Publishing.
16. Thyroid eye disease center. Casey Eye Institute.
17. Sommerburg, Olaf, Jan EE Keunen, Alan C. Bird, and Frederik JGM van Kuijk. “Fruits and vegetables that are sources for lutein and zeaxanthin: the macular pigment in human eyes.” British Journal of Ophthalmology 82, no. 8 (1998): 907-910.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.