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What causes a ring around the pupil?

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Updated April 23, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What causes a ring around the pupil?
I have noticed a whitish ring developing around the pupil of both eyes. What causes a ring around the pupil? Should I be concerned?
Answer: A gray or whitish arc that sometimes develops around the cornea is called arcus senilis. Many people refer to the condition as "ring around the pupil." In some people, arcus senilis is present at birth. In others, the condition develops later in life. In young people, the condition is called arcus juvenilis. Arcus senilis may appear as an arc above or beneath the cornea, or it may form an entire ring around the cornea.

Having a ring around the pupil is common among elderly people, who often spot the condition in a mirror. The whitish arc you see 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. However, most eye care physicians feel that people with arcus senilis under the age of 40 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.

Source:

Catania, Louis J. Primary Care of the Anterior Segment, Second Edition. Appleton & Lange, 1995.

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