Our eyes say a lot about our state of health, here are the details to watch out for – Ouest-France evening edition

By Barbara PIERSCIONEK, Professor and Deputy Dean at Anglia Ruskin University.

The eyes are the mirror of the human soul… and also of its health. Without any technology, by just looking into each other’s eyes, many mild and more serious health problems can be detected. Here are concrete examples of some characteristics that you can analyze.

The University of California, San Diego (United States) has developed a smartphone application capable, immediately and simply, of detecting the early signs of several neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. How ? Via the phone’s camera, capable of tracking changes in the size of a person’s pupils at a sub-millimeter level of resolution. Analysis of these measurements can then be used to assess one’s cognitive state.

The idea is not new and, as technologies evolve, eyes will prove ever more relevant to diagnosing a wide range of diseases. Indeed, due to their partial transparency, they require much less invasive examination methods than other parts of the body. Without any technology, by just looking at yourself (or your loved ones) in the eyes, you yourself can detect a number of minor health problems – but not only that. Here are concrete examples of some characteristics that you can analyze.

Pupil dilation abnormality

The pupil, this “black hole” at the heart of our eye, reacts instantly to light thanks to the iris (colored part, composed of muscle fibers) which is capable of contracting or dilating like a camera diaphragm. It adapts by becoming smaller in bright environments and larger in darker environments. This pupillary (or photomotor) reflex is commonly checked by health professionals.

A slow or delayed response in pupil size can be a sign of several conditions, including serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the effect of medications and drug use. Dilated pupils are common in people who use stimulant drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines. Very small pupils can be seen in heroin users.

Read also: Rubbing your eyes too much harms your health, here’s why

Color of the “white of the eye”

A change in color of the sclera (the “whites of the eyes”) indicates that something is wrong… A red, bloodshot eye can, for example, be triggered by alcohol or drug abuse. It can also be caused by irritation or infection, which in most cases goes away within a few days.

If the color change is persistent, it may signal a more serious infection, inflammation, or a reaction to contact lenses or their solutions. In extreme cases, a red eye indicates glaucoma, a condition that can lead to blindness.

Yellowing of the white of the eye is a sign of liver damage (bottom, normal eye, above, “jaundice”). (Photo: sruilk/Shutterstock)

Sclera turning yellow is the most obvious sign of jaundice (jaundice) or other liver damage. The underlying causes vary greatly, and this yellowing of the skin and eye is due to excess bilirubin (yellow pigment) in the blood when it can no longer be excreted normally by the liver. They include inflammation of this organ (hepatitis), genetic or autoimmune diseases, as well as certain medications, viruses or tumors.

Read also: Five tips for healthy eyes!

Eye hemorrhage

A small red spot in the white of the eye, indicating a subconjunctival hemorrhage – or a small blood vessel that has “ruptured” locally – can be frightening. Most of the time, there is no reason to worry: the causes are rarely clear and the bleeding generally disappears within a few days.

However, it can also be an indication of high blood pressure, diabetes and blood clotting disorders that cause excessive bleeding. Blood thinning medications like aspirin can also be the cause. Also, if this problem is common, it may suggest that you need to limit your consumption of these medications, or at least review the dosage.

The bursting of a small blood vessel in the white of the eye can be impressive, but it is most often of no consequence. (Photo: Zay Nyi Nyi / Shutterstock)

Appearance of a clear arc

It is a common characteristic after a certain age, hence its scientific name arcus senilis (or senile arc of the cornea, gerontoxon): a lighter “arc”, sometimes almost white, can form on the periphery of the cornea. cornea.

It is due to a deposit of cholesterol… but is not necessarily a sign of hypercholesterolemia, and it does not reduce visual acuity. In some cases, however, it may actually be linked to high cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease. It can also reveal alcoholism.

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“Arcus senilis” becomes common over the age of 50. (Photo: Arztsamui/Shutterstock)

Development of a small fatty bump

Sometimes the most alarming features that can appear on the eyes are actually the most benign and easiest to treat. A small yellowish cystic bump may appear on the white of the eye: this is a pinguécula, a deposit of fat and proteins. This small lesion (which may be caused by exposure to dust, etc.) may be accompanied by mild inflammation and irritation. As it does not cause visual discomfort, it does not necessarily require treatment. But if inflammation sets in, it can be easily treated with eye drops or removed with a small operation.

Read also: When eye surgery turns into a nightmare

The pterygium (or pterygia) also comes at the level of the sclera, but the impact is not the same. This time it is an evolving pinkish growth which covers the white of the eye; it does not pose a danger to vision until it begins to impinge on the cornea. Fortunately, its development is very slow. And like pinguécula, it can be easily removed. In fact, it must be removed well before it reaches the cornea. If allowed to settle, the pterygium will form an opaque “film” on the cornea which will obstruct vision. One of the main factors causing pterygium (as with pinguecula) would be chronic exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun.

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This small bump on the cornea is harmless. (Photo: sruilk/Shutterstock)

Eyes that become more bulging

It is a facial feature: the eyes can be more or less sunken, set apart… Some people have more bulging eyes than others. But sometimes this trait evolves and we notice a tendency of the eyes to project forward (we speak of exophthalmos). The eye appears to “grow”, which is notably due to an increase in the eye muscles; if the phenomenon becomes more pronounced, visual discomfort is possible, with pain, poor hydration of the globe, etc.

The cause may be medical and require special attention. It can be the consequence of an infection (the most common cause in children), an injury, inflammation (related to a fungus, an abscess, etc.), a tumor behind the eye (very rare), etc.

But the most common cause is a problem with the thyroid gland (80% of these thyroid cases result from hyperthyroidism), which triggers inflammation of the eye tissues and causes them to swell. She then touches both eyes.

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Having bulging eyes is only problematic if this trait develops. (Photo: Garna Zarina/Shutterstock)

What the eyelids say

Eyelids can also indicate many diseases. These are usually linked to minor conditions of the glands associated with them. The stye, for example, is a common and harmless infection of the base of an eyelash by bacteria, which causes swelling and localized redness. It usually goes away on its own or with warm compresses; if it persists, it can be removed by a simple procedure.

Chalazion, which appears as a red bump on the upper eyelid and, more rarely, on the lower eyelid, is caused by blockage of a sebaceous gland. Spasms and involuntary contractions of the eyelid (myokymia) will irritate and bother – but in most cases, the phenomenon is perfectly harmless and is more unpleasant than dangerous. It can be linked to stress, nutritional imbalance or excessive caffeine consumption.

The original version of this article was published in The Conversation.

The Conversation

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