Rare syndrome causes man’s eye to 'glow'

A rare syndrome caused a 44-year-old man’s eye to eerily resemble the flaming Eye of Sauron from “The Lord of the Rings.”

The case came to light when the man, who was not identified in a report recently detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), went to an eye clinic to reestablish care after moving to a new area.

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The man, who had a family history of glaucoma – a condition that can damage the optic nerve and potentially cause blindness – told the doctor treating him that he had already been diagnosed with high eye pressure and was taking medication to treat it. But after performing an eye pressure test, the doctor noticed the man’s pressure was 21 mm Hg, slightly above the normal range of 12 to 20 mm Hg.

The subsequent eye exam then “revealed circumferential spoke-like iris transillumination defects in both eyes,” the report’s authors, from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, wrote. The “glow” coming from the man’s eye was a result of the bright light used during the exam shining through the man’s iris, the colored part of the eye. This effect indicated defects in the pigment of his iris. 

The man's eye appeared to "glow" because of a condition called pigment dispersion syndrome.

The man's eye appeared to "glow" because of a condition called pigment dispersion syndrome. (The New England Journal of Medicine ©2019.)

The doctor then diagnosed the man with “pigment dispersion syndrome,” which “occurs when pigment granules that normally adhere to the back of the iris flake off into the clear fluid produced in the eye, called the aqueous humor,” according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. 

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“Sometimes these granules flow toward the drainage canals of the eye, slowly clogging them and raising eye pressure,” it continues. Increased eye pressure can lead to glaucoma.

Following the diagnosis, the man in the NEJM case report underwent laser therapy to relieve his drainage canals of the fluid, decreasing the pressure in his eye. He then continued taking medication to keep his eye pressure levels in a healthy range, according to the report.