Mysterious condition makes human eyes shine like a galaxy

A relatively common condition can turn a person’s vision into a galaxy, making the eye appear to contain a starry sky.

People who experience the benign change actually have no celestial bodies in their vision. But anyone who looks into their eyes will see tiny spots of light against a dark background.

The age-related condition is called asteroid hyalosis (AH), and no one knows why it only occurs in some individuals, let alone what it says about a person’s overall health.

Age appears to be a risk factor, but the condition and its correlations with other health problems have not been well studied. Estimates from various studies suggest that AH affects about 1 to 2 in 100 people. It also occurs in dogs.

The condition itself rarely causes vision problems (although it can make diagnosing other eye conditions difficult) and usually occurs gradually. Many people have no idea they even have it. Often the only thing that changes is the appearance of the eye to others.

For example, in 2018, a 54-year-old woman with diabetes who underwent a routine eye exam was found with a textbook case of AH in her left eye, as seen below. She didn’t know it was there.

These star fragments are a buildup of material, often calcium, in the vitreous humor or gel-like fluid of the eye. This fluid makes up most of the eye structure and is located between the retina, at the back, and the lens, at the front.

With age, the vitreous can accumulate debris from infections, inflammation, and bleeding, causing floaters, which can appear in a person’s vision as dark, squiggly spots.

Other types of debris are invisible to the eyes of the viewer, but appear as “sparkling opacities” to those ‘outside’ looking in. Under direct light, these asteroid bodies are ‘creamy white’. But with the help of an ophthalmoscope, a device that allows doctors to look into the eye, the material glitters like gold.

frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard writing; encrypted media; gyroscope; photo within photo; web-share” referrerpolicy=”strict-origin-when-cross-origin” allowfullscreen>

It is unclear whether AH is related to other health problems. Observational studies have produced mixed results. The condition appears to occur without inflammation, and some experts think it is related to problems with blood vessels or problems with cell recycling.

“There is an ongoing debate,” researchers wrote in a 2023 review, about whether that is the case [asteroid hyalosis] shares similar degenerative and microvascular mechanisms with metabolic dysfunction and coronary artery disease, given commonly identified shared risk factors of age, hypertension, diabetes and male gender.”

“AH may in fact represent a final common pathway for multiple clinical conditions and risk factors,” they hypothesized.

Asteroid hyalose
Case of asteroid hyalosis in a dog. (Joel Mills/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY SA 3.0)

In recent years, scientists have looked into people’s eyes to find signs of rapid aging, mental decline preceding Alzheimer’s disease, or early death. Our eyes are the only external part of our nervous system, so they can reveal what’s happening inside. For example, in 2022, a machine learning model discovered how to predict a person’s life years with relative accuracy simply by looking at the retina.

Whether or not AH can be used to predict similar health outcomes remains to be seen. Our current understanding of AH is largely based on anecdotal evidence or clinical experience. Large, randomized clinical trials are needed to better understand AH, especially in the rare cases when it causes symptoms.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *