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A Rare Condition That Makes People Cry Blood

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Since the 16th century, doctors have reported cases of people who cry blood. Some once considered haemolacria—an extremely rare disorder that causes tears that are partially or entirely made of blood—something akin to stigmata, but doctors now have a bit of a better understanding of why some shed bloody tears. Yet, in many cases it remains a mystery. Here are a few things we know. 

1. Hormone changes can cause bloody tears

In what might be one of the earliest recorded cases of haemolacria, 16th century Italian physician Antonio Brassavola wrote of treating a nun who wept bloody tears when she was menstruating. Then, in 1581, a Flemish doctor wrote of a 16-year-old girl he treated “who discharged her flow throughout the eyes, as drops of bloody tears, instead of through the uterus.” 

Modern science backs this idea up: According to a 1991 study of 125 healthy subjects, menstruation contributes to occult haemolacria, or traces of blood in tears. The paper found that 18 percent of fertile women have some blood in their tears, while only 7 percent of pregnant women, 8 percent of men, and no post-menopausal women show signs of bloody tears. The scientists concluded that "Occult haemolacria in fertile women thus seems to be induced by hormones, whereas haemolacria most often is provoked by local factors (bacterial conjunctivitis, environmental damage, injuries)."

2. Tennessee seems to make people cry blood

Within the past five years, there have been two notable cases of haemolacria: Calvino Inman and Michael Spann. Both live in Tennessee, and doctors have been unable to discover a reason why either weeps blood.

When Inman, who lives in Rockwood, was 15, he stepped out of the shower and noticed red tears covering his face; he thought he was dying. Spann, from Antioch, was walking down the stairs when he experienced a crippling headache and noticed bloody tears.

While suddenly crying bloody tears will understandably cause panic, haemolacria is generally not life threatening. But it can be debilitating: Spann says he has been fired after employers noticed blood running down his face and has since become a recluse

3. Spontaneous cases are rare (but also happen in Tennessee)

Dr. Barrett G. Haik, director of the University of Tennessee's Hamilton Eye Institute, studied cases of unexplained and spontaneous episodes of bloody tears. His report, which was published in 2004 in the journal Ophthalmic Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, determined that from 1992 to 2003, there were only four cases of spontaneous haemolacria without a medical cause—and two of the known cases that occurred since that study happened in Tennessee. "What's really rare is to have a child like this," Haik told CNN in 2009, when Inman's case first came to light. "Only once every several years do you see someone with no obvious cause."

People living in other places have experienced haemolacria, too. This year, 20-year-old Yaritza Oliva, who lives in Chile, began crying blood, and doctors have ruled out any likely causes, such as conjunctivitis or blood clots. And there are reports that Indian teen Twinkle Dwivedi allegedly cries bloody tears, but many attribute her ailment to Munchausen syndrome.   

4. Haemolacria normally disappears

Almost as unexpectedly as it starts, haemolacria ends. “Most of these were relatively young patients,” Haik’s co-author, James Fleming, an ophthalmologist at the Hamilton Eye Institute, told the Tennessean in 2004. “As they matured, the bleeding decreased, subsided, and then stopped.” 

Spann has experienced bloody tears for seven years, but the frequency has lessened. What was once a daily occurrence now happens about once a week. Haik and Fleming write in the paper: “In all patients, bloody tearing eventually resolved without further sequela. No recurrence has been reported over a follow-up period of 9 months to 11 years.”

5. Injuries also cause haemolacria

In March, a Canadian man was walking on the beach when a poisonous snake bit him, causing him to weep bloody tears and experience painful swelling and kidney failure. Doctors attributed this to the massive amounts of internal bleeding caused by the snake's venom. In most cases of haemolacria, a head injury, tumor, blood clot, a tear in the tear duct, or a common infection, such as conjunctivitis, causes the bloody tears.

When patients cry tears, doctors look for tumors, conjunctivitis, or tears in the tear ducts. Fleming told WTSP that Spann's haemolacria "probably [has] a cause, but it is a small tear duct that is only a millimeter or two or three in diameter. It's a tube. To get into that tube and examine that tube from one end to the other would cause scarring, and you could lose part of the tear duct."

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Live Smarter
Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
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Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item baked in an older kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. Historically, lead has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red. The chemical is avoided by potters today, but it can still show up in handmade dishware baked in older kilns that contain lead residue. Antique products from the era when lead was a common crafting material may also be unsafe to eat or drink from. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. Independent artisans have also moved away from working with the ingredient, but there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

This piece was updated to clarify that while lead may be present in antique ceramics and old kilns, it's no longer a common ingredient in ceramic glazes.

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