The People Who Cry Blood

By Shawn W. Larson on Friday, December 13, 2013
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“Eye-offending brine.” —William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

In A Nutshell

A rare portion of the population cries much likes the rest of us, with the exception that it isn’t tears falling from their eyes—it’s blood. Even creepier, it’s mostly found in people from Tennessee.

The Whole Bushel

It’s considered a medical mystery—a rare condition that causes a person to bleed from the eyes without explanation. Medical professionals have given it the name “haemolacria”—and it seems to be happening the most to people who live in one state: Tennessee.

A 22-year-old man says it feels like being “hit in the head with a sledgehammer,” adding that he used to get daily headaches that accompanied bleeding from his eyes, but says they only happen around once or twice a week now. His name is Michael Spann, a resident of Antioch, Tennessee.

Doctors are perplexed as to the cause of the condition, as well as to why it happens mostly to Tennessee residents. Calvino Inman, also afflicted with haemolacria, says, “Sometimes, I can feel it coming up, like a tear. I feel my eyes watering . . . Sometimes, it will burn as it comes out.” He says that it’s also embarrassing, because classmates call him “possessed” when it happens.

In a 2004 medical review co-authored by Dr. Barrett G. Haik of the University of Tennessee’s Hamilton Eye Institute, it was described as “bloody tearing,” a condition that often confounds most doctors. Haik went on to conclude that “cases typically resolve without treatment.”

But others point to hormone changes as the source, especially as it applies to women. A 1995 study of 125 healthy subjects determined that “Menstruation contributes to occult haemolacria, or traces of blood in tears.” It went on to report its finding 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.”

Nothing, at least so far, has been offered in the way of explanation as to why most cases appear to originate from Tennessee.

However, one case that doesn’t come out of Tennessee involves a 20-year-old Chilean woman named Yaritza Oliva, who in June 2013 was reported to have begun bleeding from the eyes. She was prescribed special eye drops to soothe the pain that accompanies the bleeding, since her family couldn’t afford to hire a specialist to diagnose the condition. The rise of these rare cases have prompted a renewed interest from medical professionals, who hope to find a cause and cure.

Show Me The Proof

NBC News: Medical mystery: Man sheds tears of blood
Huffington Post: Woman Who Cries Blood, Yaritza Oliva, Is Believed To Have Rare Condition Called Haemolacria (video)