What Are Cholesterol Rings?

Checking up female patient
A woman is getting an eye examination. (Image: DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images)

Cholesterol rings in the eye, also called corneal arcus, are deposits of fats in the clear part of your eye known as the cornea. They form a white or light gray arc or complete circle in front of the colored part of your eye. Depending on your age and medical history, cholesterol rings in the eye may or may not be a health concern.

Cholesterol Types

The human body needs cholesterol to function. This component of the outer coat of all cells helps with digestion and production of certain vitamins and hormones. Cholesterol is divided into two main types. LDL, which stands for low-density lipoproteins, consists mostly of fats and is known as "bad" cholesterol. HDL, or high-density lipoproteins, are mostly made of proteins and are referred to as "good" cholesterol. Too much LDL can cause blockages in the arteries and raise the risk for heart attacks. Corneal arcus can be an indicator of high blood cholesterol.

Cholesterol Rings With Aging

Cholesterol rings are fairly common with aging. In older adults, this ring is known as arcus senilis. Cholesterol rings seen in people older than 50 are generally not considered a cause for concern because they often occur with normal aging. According to the "Textbook of Ophthalmology," 60 percent of people ages 40 to 60 have arcus senilis, and almost everyone over age 80 has this condition. While cholesterol rings can be prominent enough to be seen with the naked eye, they don't interfere with vision.

Sign of High Cholesterol

In people younger than 50, corneal arcus can be a sign of high cholesterol. Because arcus shows evidence of early fat deposits in the cornea, blood work should be ordered to check blood cholesterol levels. According to a 2007 study in "Atherosclerosis," other factors that could cause arcus at an earlier age include diabetes, cigarette smoking, blood pressure and excess alcohol consumption.

Detection

In many cases, the only way to detect a cholesterol ring is an eye examination. Cholesterol rings don't cause symptoms like pain or blurry vision. If your doctor notices that you have arcus, she may recommend blood testing to check your cholesterol levels.

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