The eyelids serve to protect and lubricate the outer eye. The upper eyelid is lifted by a muscle called the levator muscle. Inside the back part of the lid is a tarsal plate which adds rigidity to the lid. The levator muscle is attached to the tarsal plate by a flat tendon called the levator aponeurosis. When the muscle cannot lift the eyelid or lifts it only partially, the person is said to have a ptosis.
There are two types of ptosis, acquired and congenital. Acquired ptosis is more common. Congenital ptosis is present at birth. Both congenital and acquired ptosis can be, but are not necessarily, hereditary.
Causes and symptoms
Ptosis may occur because the levator muscle's attachment to the lid is weakening with age. Acquired ptosis can also be caused by a number of different things, such as disease that impairs the nerves, diabetes, injury, tumors, inflammation, or aneurysms. Congenital ptosis may be caused by a problem with nerve innervation or a weak muscle. Drooping eyelids may also be the result of diseases such as myotonic dystrophy or myasthenia gravis.
The primary symptom of ptosis is a drooping eyelid. Adults will notice a loss of visual field because the upper portion of the eye is covered. Children who are born with a ptosis usually tilt their head back in an effort to see under the obstruction. Some people raise their eyebrows in order to lift the lid slightly and therefore may appear to be frowning.
Diagnosis of ptosis is usually made by observing the drooping eyelid. Finding the cause of the condition will require testing for any of the illnesses or injuries known to have this effect. Some possible tests include x rays and blood tests.
Ptosis is usually treated surgically. Surgery can generally be done on an outpatient basis under local anesthetic. For minor drooping, a small amount of the eyelid
"Ptosis crutches" are also available. These can be attached to the frame of eyeglasses to hold up the eyelid. These devices are uncomfortable and usually not well tolerated.
After diagnosing the cause of a drooping eyelid, then correcting the condition, most people have no further problems related to the ptosis. The correction, however, may still not make the eyes symmetrical. Patients should have reasonable expectations and discuss the outcome with their doctor prior to surgery.
Ptosis cannot be prevented.
American Academy of Ophthalmology. 655 Beach Street, P.O. Box 7424, San Francisco, CA 94120-7424. <http://www.eyenet.org>.
American Medical Association. 515 N. State St., Chicago, IL 60612. (312) 464-5000. <http://www.ama-assn.org>.
American Optometric Association. 243 North Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141. (314) 991-4100. <http://www.aoanet.org>.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20201. (202) 619-0257.
Dorothy Elinor Stonely
Congenital—A condition existing at birth.
Hereditary—A condition passed from parent to child. In other words, a genetic condition.