What Causes a Ring Around the Cornea?

Arcus Senilis Won't Harm Your Vision but May Suggest Other Problems.

Ring around Pupil
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Some people develop a gray, white, or bluish circle around the colored part of their eyeball. This is sometimes referred to as "ring around the pupil," though in fact, it circles (or partially circles) the cornea. The official name for this condition is arcus senilis (when it appears in older people) or acus juvenilis (when it is present at birth). Alternative names include arcus adiposus, arcus lipoides corneae, or arcus cornealis. Arcus senilis may appear as an arc above or beneath the cornea, or it may form an entire ring around the cornea.

About Arcus Senilis

Arcus senilis is common among elderly people, who often spot the condition in a mirror. The whitish arc is associated with fat (lipid) deposits. Sometimes the condition is associated with cholesterol levels in the body. Discoloration caused by arcus senilis does not decrease vision or harm the eye. Arcus senilis is amazingly common, affecting 60% of people between the ages of 50 and 60 and nearly  100% of people over 80.

However, most eye care physicians feel that people with arcus senilis under the age of 50 should have their blood tested to check for elevated cholesterol levels or other lipid disorders. Research shows that younger male patients who have rings around their pupils tend to have an increased risk of coronary artery or cardiovascular disease. According to one study, "corneal arcus is more prevalent in men than in women and in Blacks than in Whites. Its prevalence increases with advancing age. It has been associated with hypercholesterolemia, xanthelasmas, alcohol, blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes, age, and coronary heart disease."

Other Reasons for Changes in Eye Color

Rrcus senilis is essentially harmless and--if you live long enough--almost inevitable. So, too, are some other changes in eye color. For example, babies' eye color can change and change again until they are up to three years old.  Other changes in eye color should be checked out by your ophthalmologist. For example:

  • If the "whites" of your eyes have turned yellow, there is significant possibility that you are suffering from jaundice, a disorder caused by a buildup of a substance called bilirubin.
  • Another reason for yellowish eyes may be a subconjunctival hemorrhage--a condition that could be a symptom of diabetes, hypertension, or even leukemia.
  • Red spots on your eyes could be a symptom of sickle cell disease or a benign or cancerous tumor.
  • Pinkeye is a highly contagious infection of the eye that can cause itching and pain.
  • A whitish film over the eye is usually the sign of cataracts. This disorder can be easily treated, but left untreated can lead to blindness.

It is also physically possible to permanently change the color of your eyes. This can be accomplished through surgery or through corneal transplant. As neither of these risky procedures is medically necessary, however, the best choice is to enjoy your natural eye color or, if you're so inclined, ask your doctor to prescribe colored contact lenses.

View Article Sources
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  • Catania, Louis J. Primary Care of the Anterior Segment, Second Edition. Appleton & Lange, 1995.
  • Fernandez A. et al. Corneal arcus as coronary artery disease risk factor. Atherosclerosis. 2007 Aug;193(2):235-40.
  • Raj KM, Reddy PAS, Kumar VC. Significance of corneal arcus. Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences. 2015;7(Suppl 1):S14-S15.