David Bowie’s Eyes: Anisocoria

David Bowie’s eyes are two different colors due to Anisocoria, this is a result of a permanently dilated pupil which makes one iris color look different from the other in David Bowie’s eyes. This is what gave him the eerie black and light blue colored eye.

We see the world through our eyes. To many, they are the windows of our souls because they are our connection to the world around us. Unfortunately, our eyes are also subject to many issues from the benign to the fatal.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are about 253 million people living with some form of visual impairment where 36 million are blind and the rest have some level of impairment. These impairments can occur because of age, injury, disease, or genetic factors.

Visual impairments represent some of the more serious problems that our eyes face and they continue to be a concern being researched by scientists across the world in hopes of preventing or treating it.

There are other less dangerous eye conditions. Many of us wear glasses because our eyesight is not as good as it used to be. Maybe we can only see things far away or maybe only when things are close to us. Some people even suffer from some form of color blindness that affects the way they see and interpret the colors of the world.

Among the different disorders to affect the eye is anisocoria, a somewhat unknown condition with varying consequences.


What Is Anisocoria?

Anisocoria is basically when one of your pupils is a different size from the other. One can be larger or smaller than the other. This does not affect your ability to see as light is still able to enter your pupil.

It is found in 1 in 5 healthy individuals and, often, the size difference is less than 0.5mm in diameter (though differences can be up to 1mm). This condition can vary from how it affects us because most babies born with the condition do not have any underlying issues. If it is found to be heredity, then there is usually nothing to worry about.

While benign in some, anisocoria can be the result of some problems or indicate that there may be a problem. People may develop anisocoria if they have a nervous system problem, a history of eye damages, stroke risk, or viral infection.

Injuries near or at the eye can cause adhesion between the iris and the lens, which results in anisocoria. Head traumas, like injuries or tumors, can affect the eye muscles responsible for the contraction and dilation of the pupils.

Some medications, like those that affect the pupils or treatments for asthma, can also cause some form of anisocoria.


From Benign To Worse

While most forms of anisocoria are benign, the situations above can turn them into an indicator of something worse. Identifying these indicators is an important step towards diagnosis and treatment.

If anisocoria stems from an underlying problem, there are some symptoms that are associated with it. They can be problems with eye movement, pain in one or both eyes, fever, headache, blurred vision, light sensitivity, drooping eyelids, or more. If these problems occur alongside anisocoria, it is best to seek medical attention.

To understand the underlying problems, doctors will test for anisocoria as well as any size differences. They will then run tests that based on the problems you are facing. These tests can be blood tests, CT scans, MRI, or tonometry (if glaucoma is suspected).

Treatment options will follow based on the problem.

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Horner’s Syndrome

Horner’s syndrome is one of the problems that are associated with anisocoria. In the syndrome, the pupil in one eye is generally smaller and does not dilate like the other. There may be mild drooping (ptosis) in the upper eyelid of the affected eye and, on rare occurrences, slight elevation in the lower eyelid.

Horner’s syndrome may also lead to decreased sweating on the side of the face with the drooping and small pupil. Other symptoms may be decreased eye pressure in the affected eye as well as heterochromia as the affected iris becomes a lighter color.

This particular condition is divided into two groups: those that develop it from birth (congenital) and those that acquire it later in life. Congenital Horner’s can be the result of neck trauma or other traumas during birth. Sometimes, there are no apparent issues leading to the condition. Later in life, brain traumas, neck traumas, or other abnormalities in the upper regions of our bodies can lead to the condition.

These causes result in a disrupted nerve pathway that connects the face and eye to the brain. This disruption leads to the symptoms. Treatment is usually done based on the cause of the syndrome and is based on eradicating the cause. In many cases, however, the cause is not known and treatment options are limited.

It is important to distinguish Horner’s syndrome from a more severe condition. If the droopy eyelid is on the eye with a dilated pupil, this is not Horner’s syndrome. It is a condition involving third cranial nerve palsy and is a very serious medical condition that requires immediate medical attention.

David Bowie’s Eyes

David Bowie, icon and legend, is known for being a leading figure in music by creating works that have defined a generation. He became an influential figure that shaped the musical world. His use of visual representation created an iconic look that defined his creativity and his music. Part of that was his eyes, with one pupil being larger than the other.

According to anecdotal stories,  the spring of 1962 marked the moment when a 15-year-old David Bowie found himself coming to blows against his friend, George Underwood, because of a girl. This fight led Underwood to impulsively punch Bowie in the face.

The punch would have a lasting consequence on Bowie because it caused the muscles responsible for contraction of his left eye pupil to become paralyzed. This led to the anisocoria in Bowie’s eye. His left eye remained dilated and he used it to create a mystique that bolstered his image.

Fortunately, he and Underwood managed to get past the girl and remained friends.



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