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Changes in the Appearance of the Eyes

By Kathryn Colby, MD, PhD, The University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences

Dark Spots

Dark (pigmented) spots can appear on the iris or conjunctiva. Some are present at birth, and others may appear with age. Although often insignificant, any dark spot that grows should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specialize in the evaluation and treatment—surgical and nonsurgical—of eye disorders) to make sure that it is not cancer.

Other Changes

The sclera become yellow, as does the skin, in people who have jaundice (see Jaundice in Adults). The eyelids may droop (ptosis). Ptosis may occur in people who have myasthenia gravis (see Myasthenia gravis) and disorders that cause nerve damage. Sometimes the eyes are unusually wide open and prominent, usually because they are being pushed forward (exophthalmos). Exophthalmos can occur in people who have Graves disease (see Hyperthyroidism).

People with these symptoms require an eye examination and a general medical evaluation. Treatment is directed at the cause.

* This is the Consumer Version. *