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Everything You Need to Know About Corneal Arcus

Older gentleman undergoing eye exam at eye clinic

Everything You Need to Know About Corneal Arcus

Eyes are often considered the "window into the soul," but in eye care they are more commonly used as a window into the patient's overall health. Eyes can change in many ways as you get older, but some of these changes can indicate other health issues you otherwise might not notice.

Systemic diseases like diabetes and conditions like high blood pressure can all be detected during a comprehensive eye exam, but what can corneal arcus tell you about your health?

Today, we're going to unpack this little white outline of your cornea and look at what this condition is, how common it is, and what it could mean to your overall health.

What is Corneal Arcus?

Corneal arcus, otherwise known as arcus senilis for seniors or arcus juvenilis for those under 40, is typically an age-related condition that creates a deposit of cholesterol, phospholipids, and triglycerides in an "arc" on either the top or bottom side of the iris, inside the cornea. Over time, the arc can grow to encircle the entire iris, creating a white, gray, blue, or yellowish "outline."

Corneal arcus can indicate a variety of different health concerns, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and atherosclerosis. This connection was discovered as early as 1852, when pathologist Rudolf Virchow suggested that there was a connection between corneal arcus and atherosclerosis. This was a controversial topic of discussion for many years, but recent studies have shown that his hypothesis may be correct.

However, despite the physical appearance it may have on the eye, corneal arcus should not affect vision.

How Does it Develop?

This condition usually develops with age and can be found in nearly 60% of individuals between 50 and 60 years of age, but that percentage climbs to nearly 100% in patients 80 years old and older.

Corneal arcus is generally caused by lipid deposits developing on the cornea's edge, typically related to a slowdown in lipid metabolism as the patient grows older. However, if it develops in a patient younger than 40, it could implicate a more serious situation.

How Does it Affect Your Vision and Health?

If corneal arcus develops as a result of aging, it is usually not a cause for concern. However, in individuals younger than 40, corneal arcus could indicate higher than normal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

Higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels could indicate an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

What Should You Do?

There is no cure for corneal arcus, as the condition itself isn't actually harmful to your eyes or eye health. However, if you notice a white, yellow, gray, or blue ring or outline forming around your iris, you should visit your optometrist for an eye exam. Your optometrist can help you determine if your symptoms are benign or if they indicate a larger issue developing.

You may also be recommended to have your blood checked for abnormal levels of cholesterol and triglyceride. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. Some patients have decided to look into corneal tattooing to cover up the arc, but this is not recommended or encouraged by the medical community.

If you’ve noticed a symptom similar to corneal arcus in your eyes, please book an eye eye exam with us today and we can help you determine what’s best for you and your health!