When it comes to our health, the colour of everything from our eyes to our urine can tell us a lot about the state our body is in. the following head-to-toe guide will give you an idea of what’s healthy and what’s not, help you to know the steps to take when things don’t look quite right.
“The iris is the coloured part of the eye and it’s usually brown, blue, green or blue-grey, and sometimes has tan-coloured highlights,” says optometrist Amanda Griffiths. “the sclera is the part of the eye commonly called’ the white’ because it’s true – it should be white!”
“Most people are aware that jaundice (a build-up of a substance called bilirubin in the blood) causes the whites of the eyes to go yellow and that this can be because of liver problems such as hepatitis,“ explains Griffiths. “But other causes of jaundice include gallstones, blood disorders and cancers of the pancreas.” See your GP immediately to find out what’s causing the jaundice.
Ultraviolet light from the sun ca cause yellow fibrous-looking spots to form on the front of the eye. “These are called pinguecula and they can become raised and caused irritation,” says Griffiths. “Laser surgery is an option for more severe cases but for most people these sports don’t cause too many problems, but make sure you wear your sunglasses to protect your eyes from further damage.”
“The type of white spot most often seen on the front of the eye us a corneal ulcer,” says Griffiths. “The cornea is the clear window at the front of the eye which overlays the iris. These ulcers can be caused by bacteria and fungus, and most commonly occur where a contact lens wearer hasn’t cleaned their lenses properly.” Another sign of an ulcer is extra sensitivity to bright light.
Act fast if you see a white spot in your eye. “Left untreated, an ulcer can leave an opaque white scar on the cornea, which can affect vision if it’s in the line of sight,” says Griffiths. “in extreme cases, an eye surgeon would need to do a corneal transplant – which means removing the scarred cornea and replacing it with a clear one. Have an eye test as soon as possible if you think you have an ulcer on your eye. Treatment – usually antibiotics, antifungal or antiviral eye drops – works well to clear the ulcer but should be started quickly”.
A bright red mark on the white of your eye looks drastic but is likely to be harmless. “The front of the eye can be bruised if someone has bumped it or you’ve experienced intense coughing, sneezing or vomiting,” explains Griffiths. “It’s called a subconjunctival haemorrhage, and causes the eye to go bright red as a small blood vessel bursts. Although these will clear on their own usually within seven to 10 days, I still like these people to come in for a check-up to make sure they haven’t done any other damage to their eye.”
“A healthy tongue is rosy pink with pink red spots on the surface, which represent the tastebuds,” says dentist Dr Larry Benge. “Sometimes the surface of the tongue can be white when dry and certain mouthwashes or foods can temporarily change the colour of the surface.”
“The most common cause of white patches inside your cheeks and tongue is an oral yeast infection or thrush,” says Benge. Look out for other symptoms including mouth pain and cracks and redness at the corners of the mouth. You’re more at risk of oral thrush if you’re taking corticosteroids for asthma or other conditions, you smoke, have poor oral hygiene or are low in iron. A course of antifungal medication will usually clear it up quickly.
Another possible cause is oral lichen planus, an inflammatory condition that affects mucous membranes inside your mouth and may appear as white, lacy patches.
In rare cases white patches can also be a sign of cancer. “Any unusual discolouration or lesion in the mouth should be reviewed by your doctor or dentist who will then decide if further investigation is needed or referral to a specialist is required,” advises dentist Dr Jaclyn Wong.
“Chlorhexidine – the active ingredient in certain mouthwashes – can change the colour of the teeth and tongue to a darker, brownish colour if used over a prolonged period of time,” says Benge. “Certain bacteria in the mouth can also affect the colour of the tongue surface and cause it to change to a black/brown or green colour.”
If you stop using the mouthwash the effects will be reversed. In the meantime, maintain good dental hygiene to combat bacteria. “Practise regular brushing morning and night with daily flossing, and book in for regular professional scale and cleans with a dentist. It’s also important to brush the tongue when brushing the teeth,” advises Wong.
ALSO BEWARE OF…
We all get red eyes in photos from time to time, but if a child’s eyes look white in a photo taken with a flash, they need to be checked by a doctor immediately. “A white pupil in a baby or young child can be a sigh of a fast-growing cancerous tumour called a retinoblastoma,” says Griffiths. “A retinoblastoma is often sight-threatening and can be life-threatening if not treated quickly enough.”
“Pale bluish or grayish skin tone called cyanosis can also affect the lips and nails and it’s due to the tissues near the skin surface having low oxygen saturation,” says dermatologist Dr Michael Rich, “It can be a sign of respiratory problems, heart or liver disease or anaemia (low blood iron)”.
An immediate trip to your GP is important to rule out serious illness. “Changes that occur on the skin can alert us to disease,” says Rich, “The first step is to see a professional to find the underlying cause and make an appropriate diagnosis.”
RED OR PURPLE SPOTS
Known as petechiae, these tiny red and purple spots can be caused by physical trauma such as intense coughing, vomiting or crying, which can result in facial petechiae, especially around the eyes. These are harmless and usually clear up after a few days but the spots can also indicate other health problems.
“They can be caused by allergy, drug reactions, blood disorders, viral infections, lupus (an autoimmune disease) and vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels),” says Rich. “Petechiae can be a hallmark of serious illness, and should be investigated by a doctor without delay.”
OTHER COLOUR CLUES TO LOOK OUT FOR
URINE – What’s normal? This should be clear with a straw-yellow colour. But if you notice any blood in the bowl, which can indicate a bladder infection or kidney stone, see your GP.
“Eating beetroot can make urine appear red. If you’re taking lots of vitamins it will be green because your kidneys are trying to execute the vitamins and minerals,” says gynaecologist Dr Gino Pecararo.”
PERIODS – what’s normal? A range of colour is normal. “Brighter red just means fresh, and the older blood coming out is darker brown,” says Pecararo. “But if you’re flooding through your pad or tampon, see your GP immediately.”
FAECES – what’s normal? Your poo can range in colour from a light tan to dark brown or even black, depending on your diet. See a doctor if it’s yellow, greasy and smelly, as you could have a problem with your pancreas, if it contains blood which may indicate a haemorrhoid or tumour, or if it’s dark green, which can point to inflammatory bowel disease.