Arcus Senilis

A blue/white/gray arc or ring around the irises of your eyes is called arcus senilis if you’re 50 to 60 years old or older. It’s seen as a normal part of aging. If you’re younger and you have them, you should see your provider about possible underlying health conditions.

Overview

What is arcus senilis?

Corneal arcus is a condition that happens when you have a white, blue or gray crescent shape (arc) made of lipid (fatty) deposits that curves around the outer edges of the cornea of the eye. The curve can extend all around the cornea to form a ring.

Your ophthalmologist can see a corneal arcus during your eye examination.

The cornea is the clear and curved “window” that covers your iris and pupil. It protects your eye and helps with vision. The iris is the colored part of your eye. The white part of the eye is the sclera. In infants, the sclera sometimes looks like it has a blue tint.

The name for corneal arcus is arcus senilis if you’re 50 to 60 years old or older (“senilis” means senile, which refers to old age). Nearly every person 80 years old or older will have arcus senilis. It happens as a typical part of aging.

The name for corneal arcus is arcus juvenilis if you’re under 40 years old (“juvenilis” refers to youth). If you have arcus juvenilis, it may indicate that you have another condition.

Is arcus senilis the same as cataracts?

Cataracts on your eyes and arcus senilis are typically age-related conditions. However, arcus senilis doesn’t affect your vision. Cataracts can grow and can make your vision worse. Surgery can remove cataracts. There’s no surgery to remove arcus senilis because there’s no need to remove arcus senilis.

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Possible Causes

What causes arcus senilis?

Lipids that settle around the cornea cause the white-gray opaque rings. Lipids are fatty materials. Cholesterol is one type of lipid. Previously, providers thought that the rings meant that you had high cholesterol levels in your blood. The corneal arcus rings are made mostly of cholesterol.

You may not have high blood cholesterol levels if you’re 50 or 60 years old or older. In this case, aging may be the reason behind the arcus senilis in both eyes. If you have arcus senilis in both eyes, you have bilateral arcus senilis.

However, if you have the hazy rings and you’re 40 years old or younger, or if the ring appears only in one eye, your healthcare provider may suspect that you have an underlying condition.

These may include problems like high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels. Some providers have found an association between corneal arcus and alcohol use disorder.

Who gets arcus senilis?

People assigned male at birth (AMAB) have the condition more often than people assigned female at birth (AFAB) do. The rates are higher among people who are African American and people of Southeast Asian descent than in people who are white. However, anyone can get arcus senilis. In fact, most people do if they live long enough.

Care and Treatment

How is arcus senilis treated?

There’s no need to treat arcus senilis just because it’s there. It’s not harmful and doesn’t affect your vision. It’s not a problem if it’s related to aging. However, your healthcare provider will investigate further if:

  • You are under 40 or 50 years old.
  • The ring is present only in one eye (unilateral arcus senilis). This can indicate a problem with the carotid artery, such as carotid artery disease.

In these cases, your healthcare provider will work with you to find and treat the condition that’s causing the corneal arcus.

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How can arcus senilis be prevented?

You can’t stop arcus senilis from forming when it’s the result of aging. But you can take steps to keep cholesterol levels in line as you go through life. Here are some things you can do:

  • Don’t smoke. Make plans to quit if you do smoke.
  • Find ways to add physical activity in your days.
  • Try to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Follow a heart-healthy food plan, such as the Mediterranean diet.

When to Call the Doctor

When should arcus senilis be treated by a healthcare provider?

If you have any type of changes in your eye, you should contact your healthcare provider. This includes rings that form at the tops or bottoms of your corneas.

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Additional Common Questions

What’s the difference between arcus senilis and Kayser-Fleischer rings?

Arcus senilis develops as a white-grey ring from deposits of lipids. Copper deposits in people who have Wilson disease cause Kayser-Fleischer rings, which are dark.

Does arcus senilis affect vision?

The cloudy ring may seem like it would make it harder for you to see. However, arcus senilis doesn’t affect your vision.

Is arcus senilis dangerous?

Generally, arcus senilis isn’t dangerous, but it won’t go away. There’s no treatment for arcus senilis, but your provider will treat any underlying conditions.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

It’s great to pay attention to how your eyes look normally and to contact your healthcare provider or eye doctor about any changes. If you notice white/blue/gray arcs or rings around the colored part of your eye, go ahead and contact your provider. If they diagnose you with arcus senilis, you don’t have to worry about changes in your vision or eye disease.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/29/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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