Advertisement
question

What makes a sick person's eyes roll back in his head?

Ivan A. Schwab, MD
Ivan A. Schwab, MD on behalf of American Academy of Ophthalmology's EyeSmart
Ophthalmology
answer
The eyes of a sick person do not always roll back into the head, but for those that do, there may be several answers. The most likely answer and cause relates to sleep. When we sleep, we have what is known as Bell's phenomenon. First described by Charles Bell in 1823, our eyes deviate upward and outward with forced lid closure, and in many with more passive lid closure with sleep. The rolling of the eyes with some serious illnesses is probably mediated by the same mechanism as the Bell's phenomenon and resembles what happens in most of us while we sleep. As we close our lids, the eyes go up and out, at least to some extent. While we don't know exactly what that mechanism is, there may be involvement of two cranial nerves including the one that moves our facial muscles known as the facial nerve (number seven for those who are interested) and one of the nerves that helps move our eye though eye muscles (the third nerve for those who are interested). So the eyes may be rolling up in the head with a near-sleep state, although there could be other reasons as well.

Continue Learning about Eye and Vision

How Vision Loss Can Harm Your Mental Health
How Vision Loss Can Harm Your Mental Health
Vision loss can make it harder—even impossible—to do certain activities you enjoy or to perform routine tasks, such as driving. Fears of falling or ha...
Read More
Cataract Surgery May Add Years to Your Life
Cataract Surgery May Add Years to Your Life
Cataract surgery doesn’t just give a boost to aging eyes, says one study—it could actually make you live longer. Australian researchers examined 354 ...
Read More
The Brainy Side of Being Nearsighted
The Brainy Side of Being Nearsighted
Next time you feel stupid for doing something embarrassing without your glasses, be comforted by this: Having myopia (that is, being nearsighted) may ...
Read More
9 Things Your Vision Reveals About Your Health
9 Things Your Vision Reveals About Your Health9 Things Your Vision Reveals About Your Health9 Things Your Vision Reveals About Your Health9 Things Your Vision Reveals About Your Health
Changes in your vision may be signs of other medical conditions. When a healthcare provider (HCP) peers into your eyes, what are they looking for? Al...
Start Slideshow

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.