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The 90s singer Gabrielle, who has enjoyed hits with songs such as ‘Dreams’, ‘Rise’ and ‘Walk on By’, has always obscured her right eye either with her hair, a hat or her trademark eye patch. Whist this has become an integral part of her identity it was actually borne out of an eye condition she has had from birth rather than a fashion choice.

Gabrielle was diagnosed with ptosis in childhood. Ptosis is the drooping of one or both of the upper eyelids and can be present at birth (congenital) or later in life (acquired).

What causes ptosis?

Congenital ptosis is usually due to a defect in the muscle which raises the eyelid (the levator muscle) and although it can be purely a cosmetic problem, if it obscures the pupil it may affect your visual development. Another form of congenital ptosis occurs in Marcus Gunn ‘jaw-winking’ syndrome, the dropping eye lid rises when the jaw is opened and is particular obvious when someone is chewing. This can give the impression that the person is winking at you.

Acquired ptosis occurs later in life and can be caused by a number of different things:

  • ageing or injury which causes a defect in the muscles or nerves of the eyelid
  • ptosis can also occur in some rare muscle conditions such as myasthenia gravis which causes a weakness in the eyelid muscle
  • the eyelid can droop if the nerves supplying the eyelid are paralysed which can be caused, for example, by a third nerve palsy (a type of stroke)
  • ptosis can occur if it is weighted down by a large cyst.

How do you treat ptosis?

Ptosis doesn’t necessarily require any treatment but if your doctor feels this is appropriate the treatment would be in the form of ptosis surgery where they would shorten the muscles or tendon that raise the lid.

In Gabrielle’s case, she underwent surgery which left her with a shortened eyelid and she has previously talked about her struggles with mental health during her school days. However,  In an interview with BBC Radio Wales, Gabrielle spoke about the transformative impact of her eye patch, calling it a ‘game changer’. She explained: “Prior to that if I’d have a conversation with somebody, I would never look that person directly in the eye.”

Fortunately, her insecurities about her eye did not stop her achieving the success she has. Often ptosis is a cosmetic problem but it can cause issues with brow ache which can happen with the extra effort you may need to keep the eyelid open. However, in rare cases it may be a sign of something more serious. So, if you notice any change with your eyelid appearance, it is really important to seek medical advice or see your optometrist urgently.

June 6, 2024