There are a variety of eye conditions that can lead to rings - or other
things - around parts of the eyes. It has also been theorized that a black
ring - or dark ring - arund the iris is a symptom of real vampirism. (It
needs to be stressed that this is ONLY THEORY, not fact!) So far, the
site where this originates from simply states that it is a DARK ring,
so it's not necessarily black - but it may look black under dim lighting,
if it's dark enough, or if the observer has a color blindness affects
how the ring is perceived.
In the interest of being sure that my readers are not ignoring possible
medical ailments, this article will cover different types of rings and
other discolorations of the eyes, and what - medically speaking - health
conditions may possibly be represented by each of them.
BASIC ANATOMY OF THE EYE
Let's start with some basic eye anatomy. Referring to the various parts
of the eye with the correct names will make it much easier to do further
research. :) First up is a very basic frontal view, with the parts identified
that most people will be likely to see when they're looking at the eyes
of a person:
And a side view, with a few more parts labeled (some of these are refrenced
in the eye condition descriptions below):
Latin word meaning arch or bow. Used to refer to the curve around the
Bowman's Membrane / Bowman's Layer:
Smooth layer in the eye located in between corneal layers. It is composed
of collagen and helps the cornea maintain it's shape. (Patients with
collagen disorders - Marfan's, Hypermobility, Ehlos-Danlos, etc. - will
notice this affects their vision a lot, and their vision prescriptions
may change to a larger degree than that of most other people.)
Ciliary Body / Iris:
Tissue inside the eye composed of both ciliary muscles and what's called
"ciliary processes". Where the ciliary body crosses the lens,
it is more commonly referred to as the "iris", and contains
the muscles that dilate and contract the iris, depending on the amount
of exposed light. The ciliary processes are the tissue folds that create
the patterns you see (the blue circular part in the first eye picture,
above) in the colored iris itself. (No, "ciliary processes"
doesn't make much sense as a logical name to me either...)
The transparent, dome shaped 'window' covering the front of the eye
Clear mucous membrane covering the whites of the eyes. Inflammation
of this part of the eye is called conjunctivitis, commonly known as
Inflammation of the ciliary body that causes redness of the sclera near
The junction between the cornea and the sclera. This is the area surrounding
This is actually a gap in front of the lens, rather than tissue. The
iris expands and contracts to make this gap larger or smaller, depending
on the amount of available light.
The whites of the eyes.
Swelling and irritation of the center of the eye. The uvea provides
most of the blood supply to the retinas.
GENERAL PIGMENTATION ISSUES
(Not limited to rings, but may appear as such in rare situations)
Argyria / Argyrosis (rare; caused
by excessive silver salts, long term minocycline use, etc.)
Bluish-black pigmentation due to excessive applications of insoluble
albuminate of silver, such as colloidal silver. This is rare, but most
often seen as a general blueish-black skin discoloration, but can be
localized to the eyes if the patient is just using a silver salt compound
near or in the eyes on a long-term basis. The discoloration is permanent,
and harmless by itself, however extremely high doses of silver compounds
will eventually be fatal. The discoloration often gets confused with
cyanosis (lack of oxygen, which also causes a blueish tint) and can
present extra challenges in medical care.
Calcific Band Keratopathy
Grayish-white Calcium deposits (often in a band, but sometimes occurring
in a ring) either across the cornea or in the limbus. Caused by conditions
resulting in high calcium, such as primary hyperparathyroidism, chronic
renal insufficiency (evidenced by elevated calcium in relation to phosphate),
sarcoidosis, milk-alkali syndrome, multiple myeloma, Hodgkin's disease,
and beryliosis (beryillium disease due to inhallation of beryillium
This may get confused for Arcus (see description in next section) but
high calcium conditions can be noted on a complete metabolic/chem20
blood test - get a cholesterol panel at the same time to determine whether
it's a calcium issue, cholesterol issue or something else completely.
chrysoderma (caused by excessive gold insolubles)
Similar to Argyrosis, only due to gold instead of silver. This discoloration
is also permanent, and is similar in color. Gold salts were once used
as a treatment for joint pain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
(RA); Methotrexate is now the preferred agent for RA treatment.
Metallic objects, and components from things such as makeup or mascara
can get in the eye, get under the top layers, and remain there lending
the color of the object to the part of the eye it's in. Iron deposits
from eye makeup and mascara are just one example of this.
Yellowing of the eyes (and also other parts of the body prone to discoloration
in this situation.) This is caused by various types of liver problems
(cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, Wilson's Disease, Sarcoidosis, acetaminophen/Tylenol
overdosing/poisoning, etc.), as the liver becomes unable to filter bile
out of the body in a timely manner. This is the most common medical
ailment associated with yellowing of the eyes and skin, however Ochronosis
can also sometimes cause a yellow tint. (No, the color is not "off"
in this sample picture - jaundice affects the skin as well as the eye,
giving everything a yellowish tint.)
Not to be confused with Lycopenemia, a harmless yellowish-orange discoloration
due to excessive dietary consumption of lycopenes (found in tomato products
and other fruits and berries) and/or carotenes (such as found in carrots.)
Ochronosis (rare, recessive, inherited)
Blueish-black or dark yellow deposits in the skin of the eyelids, conjunctiva,
sclera and limbus; also in various connective tissues throughout the
body causing them to become brittle. This is a sign of alkaptonuria,
a metabolic disorder caused by deficiency of homogentisic acid oxidase.
Tumors may also appear (such as Kaposi's Sarcoma in immunocompromised
patients, or a conjunctival melanoma that turns the location black)
but are generally distinguishable by a professional from simple discoloration
due to size, shape and location in the eye.
Sample tumor pictures are very "ewww, gross!" - run your
own search if you really want to see them, I'm not forcing them upon
anyone who's unprepared.
Arcus Senilis / Corneal Arcus
Greyish-white ring, or partial ring, around the outer edge. True Arcus
is caused by deposits due to abnormally high lipid levels (hyperlipoproteinemia).
A cholesterol panel can reveal whether cholesterol is the cause; paired
with a complete metabolic/chem20 panel can differentiate between cholesterol,
calcium and other issues. The pigmentation changes are permanent, but
do not seem to cause visual impairments (they don't cross the pupil).
It is referred to as "Arcus Senilis" in the elderly (it's
occurrence is more frequent with age) and "corneal arcus"
in younger people.
The central zone of the iris (surrounding the pupil) is a different
color from the rest of the iris. Often this different color is yellow,
brown, orange, and is often (sometimes incorrectly) referred to as "hazel"
if it coveres most of, or all of, the iris. It may be a small skinny
ring, or covering larger portions of the iris. It's often cosmetic -
and hotly debated as to whether it's due to excessive toxins in the
body. (I wouldn't rule out the toxin theory, it's wouldn't be the first
time conventional medicine ignores something simple because they think
it couldn't possibly be a cause...)
Alternate causes can include a condition called Fuchs' Heterochromic
Uveitis/Iridocyelitis, a chronic low-grade inflammatory condition that
also includes cataracts, opacities, and glaucoma, and is typically seen
between ages 20-60, with an average age of diagnosis being around 40.
Heterochromia, Sectoral (inherited)
The heterochromic coloration only occurs in one section (hence "sectoral")
of the iris. Much less common than central heterochromia or complete
heterochromia, and typically found with such ailments as Hirschsprung's
disease (enlargement of the colon caused by obstruction) and Waardenburg
syndrome (characterized by varying degrees of hearing impairment, pigmentary
abnormalities of the skin, hair and eyes, and sometimes including intestinal
and spinal defects.)
Coppery (or dark green) coloration in the limbus area. This is common
in Wilson's disease due to a failure to metabolize copper. It also occasionally
occurs in populations with liver issues (chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis,
high cholesterol in the liver, etc.) In Wilson's Disease, there is a
corresponding gene defect mapped to chromosone 13. The upper portion
of the eye is affected more frequently than the lower.
Limbus / Limbal Ring
General term referencing pigmentation of the limbus. Limbal rings are
always dark - they may even appear black, depending on a person's vision
(remember up to 1 in 12 people have some form of color blindness, whether
mild or severe) - and the visibility does depend on ambient lighting
and eye moisture. One proposed theory on one site is that it's a shadow
caused by the shape of the cornea, but I haven't found anything in medical
literature to verify or deny that yet.
Possible medical causes:
- Addison's Disease (a form of hyptothyroidism)
- Arcus rings (see above) - benign
- Calcium Deposits, occasionally
- Chronic hepatitis or other liver disease
- Kayser-Fleischer rings (see above) - Wilson's Disease / failure
to metabolize copper
In other aspects, limbal rings are very popular from an aesthetic viewpoint,
as they are VERY commonly added to contact lenses, especially in Asian
countries, to highlight the iris.
To make things even more confusing, there is also what most people
refer to as "dark circles around the eyes" - or "dark
circles under the eyes". This is not to be confused with anything
like a limbal ring because, as you'll see from the picture below, it's
not even ON the eye - it's a darker patch of skin surrounding the eyelids!
Sometimes it appears brown if the discoloration is in the upper layers,
and sometimes the discoloration appears more blue in the deeper layers.
Possible causes include:
- Aging (due to loss of collagen and the skin getting thinner)
- Anemia - Possibly iron deficiency
- Bad blood circulation
- Exhaustion (makes rest of skin paler, leaving this area to appear
- Medications that cause blood vessels to dilate
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