Eye Health

Updated 30 June 2020

An 11-year-old girl cries bloody tears, and doctors say her condition is a mystery

Although sweating or crying tears of blood is not a new medical condition, doctors couldn't find the cause of an 11-year-old Indian girl’s experience.

  • Haemolacria, or bloody tears, is an extremely rare condition, mostly with demonstrable causes
  • An 11-year-old Indian girl was recently diagnosed with the condition, but doctors couldn't determine the cause
  • The condition is usually benign and disappears over time 

In a rare medical mystery, an 11-year-old girl from India cries tears of blood. Her worried mother reportedly confessed to hospital staff that the phenomenon was “horrifying”.

This condition is extremely rare and is medically known as haemolacria. It causes a person to produce bloody tears and is commonly associated with a tumour, trauma, infection, or a common infection such as conjunctivitis, among other things, as indicated a study published in StatPearls Publishing this year. Treatment is based on the cause, but in this girl’s case, doctors are completely baffled as to the reason behind it.

The case study by ophthalmologists from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi was published in the BMJ Case Reports this month.

No pain or stress

After the girl had been shedding spontaneous blood-tinged tears for a week, her mother decided to take her to a clinic to have the situation assessed. In the medical report, the authors explain that she was discharging the tears two to three times per day, lasting for 2–3 minutes, but that it was not associated with crying or stress. She also had no history of trauma or illness.

"I am worried about my daughter's health," the mother reportedly told the hospital staff. "The blood coming from her eyes is horrifying. I hope there will not be any similar episodes in future."

No clue as to the cause

The patient was placed under observation for two days, and continued to shed the bloody tears two to three times per day. Past studies have documented haemolacria during menstruation (due to hormonal changes), but since the patient is of premenarchal age and has not experienced menstruation, this was ruled out as a cause.

More than this, the ophthalmologists also found, through a series of tests, that her blood results were clear, tear glands appeared to be intact, and her liver and renal function tests “were found to be within normal limits”.

The ophthalmologists wrote that their investigations and evaluations for other causes of haemolacria came out negative, which ultimately meant that they had to describe her condition as idiopathic (of unknown cause). According to the report, her family has undergone counselling, and she has attended follow-up appointments.

Other cases of haemolacria

A quick search of the condition reveals several other cases, ranging from a four-month-old infant to a 52-year-old Italian man. The infant was treated with antibiotic eye drops and her condition quickly resolved within three to four days.

The same study, published in the Saudi Journal of Ophthalmology, mentions 15 cases of this disturbing condition, and explains that the median age of onset is 12 years. According to the authors, haemolacria was first described by Rembert Dodoens, a Flemish physician in 1581 after witnessing it in a 16-year-old girl. 

Sufferers need, however, not despair, as most cases eventually become less severe, or disappear entirely. 

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Image: Getty


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Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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