When someone faints or loses consciousness, it’s common to see their eyes roll back in their head. This can look alarming, but is usually a normal response that happens when the brain temporarily isn’t getting enough blood flow.
In most cases, a person’s eyes rolling back when they faint isn’t cause for concern on its own. However, if fainting episodes are frequent or accompanied by other symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor to determine if an underlying condition is to blame.
What causes eyes to roll back when fainting?
Fainting, also known as syncope, happens when there is a temporary drop in blood flow to the brain. This leads to a loss of consciousness that only lasts for a short amount of time.
When blood flow to the brain is decreased, the brain stem which controls eye movement and pupil function doesn’t get enough oxygen. This causes the muscles that control eye positioning to relax and the eyes to involuntarily roll upwards into the head.
Once blood flow is restored and the person regains consciousness, the eyes will return to their normal position. The eyes rolling back occurs as a reflex and is not something the person has control over when fainting.
Why do people faint?
There are a few common causes of fainting spells:
This is a sudden drop in blood pressure when moving from a sitting or lying down position to standing. It happens because gravity causes blood to pool in the legs and abdomen when standing, so there is less blood returning to the heart. This can result in less blood getting to the brain and fainting.
Low blood sugar
People with diabetes can faint if their blood sugar drops too low, also known as hypoglycemia. The brain relies on glucose from the bloodstream for energy and can’t function with very low blood sugar levels.
When the body lacks enough fluid volume, blood pressure can fall, leading to fainting. Dehydration can happen due to illness, heat exposure, or inadequate fluid intake.
Heart conditions that affect the heart’s electrical system or structure can sometimes result in fainting. Examples include arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms), heart valve problems, and cardiomyopathies.
Hyperventilation or severe anxiety can cause fainting in some people. Hyperventilating causes low carbon dioxide levels in the blood, resulting in constricted blood vessels and less blood flow to the brain.
Fainting can also be a symptom of certain seizure disorders. Seizures cause abnormal electrical activity in the brain, leading to unconsciousness.
Are there any health risks if you faint and your eyes roll back?
Brief fainting episodes with eyes rolling back are usually not harmful in otherwise healthy individuals. However, it’s important to identify the underlying cause, as frequent fainting may indicate an underlying heart or neurological disorder.
When someone faints, they are at risk for injury from falling. The person should be evaluated for any signs of head trauma if they hit their head or face when fainting.
Rarely, fainting can be a sign of cardiac arrest, in which blood flow stops entirely due to the heart stopping. This is an emergency situation. If someone has fainted and looks unresponsive for more than a minute or two, call emergency medical services right away.
When should you see a doctor for fainting and eye rolling?
See a doctor if you experience any of the following:
– Frequent fainting episodes, such as more than once per week
– Fainting along with chest pain, palpitations, or trouble breathing
– Fainting with an injury from falling
– Fainting while standing or sitting up
– Fainting during exercise
– Fainting preceded by numbness, sweating, or lightheadedness
– Family history of heart problems or unexpected fainting
Diagnostic tests for fainting may include blood tests, an ECG, heart monitor, CT scan, MRI, EEG, ultrasound, stress test, and tilt table test. Treatment depends on the cause but may include medications, surgery, or lifestyle changes.
What to do when someone faints
If you see someone faint and their eyes roll back:
1. Ease them to the floor to prevent injury from falling
2. Check breathing and alertness
3. Loosen any tight clothing and maintain an open airway
4. Keep them lying on their back until they regain consciousness
5. Monitor vital signs like pulse and look for any signs of injury
6. Don’t give them anything to eat or drink until fully recovered
7. Have them seen by a doctor to determine the cause
The recovery position can also be used. With the person lying on their side, carefully arrange the limbs to avoid pressure on the chest. Tilt the head to maintain an open airway. Monitor them until paramedics arrive or they regain consciousness.
Can you prevent fainting and eye rolling?
You may be able to reduce fainting episodes by:
– Treating underlying medical conditions
– Increasing fluid and salt intake
– Avoiding triggers like heat, crowded places, and prolonged standing
– Getting up slowly after sitting or lying down
– Eating regular meals to prevent low blood sugar
– Learning coping strategies if anxiety is a trigger
– Building physical fitness through exercise
– Using compression stockings to improve venous blood return
However, it may not always be possible to prevent fainting if it’s caused by an arrhythmia or other heart condition. Discuss prevention strategies with your doctor.
Eyes rolling back is an involuntary reaction that occurs with fainting due to the brain not receiving enough oxygenated blood. Brief episodes are usually harmless. However, frequent or severe fainting warrants medical evaluation. Preventive measures like avoiding triggers, increasing fluids, and slowly changing positions may help reduce occurrences. While eyes rolling back can look disturbing, it is generally not dangerous on its own when associated with typical fainting. Speak with your doctor if fainting becomes problematic.