Window to the Shen: How We Use the Eyes in Diagnosis

Chinese medicine uses observation to help diagnose what is going on in the body. If you have had acupuncture, you most likely know that we look at the tongue to help determine what is happening, but what you may not realize is that we are looking many other things as well, including your eyes.


The eyes are said to be the window of the soul. In Chinese medicine, we say that you can see the quality of a person’s spirit, or Shen, by looking at their eyes. Here are some common symptoms we see there, along with an explanation of how this may reflect what is happening in other parts of our systems.


Eye symptom


Possible cause


Shining, bright, clear eyes


open spirit/shen, strong vitality


Dull eyes


Shen issues: long term emotional struggles, long term drug use


Redness of eyes



Wind Heat or Liver Fire: viral or seasonal allergies (a Wind Heat invasion), or related to high levels of stress and irritability (Liver Fire)


Yellowing of the whites


Dampness: poor digestion or liver issues, such as jaundice


Spots in the visual field




Weakness of the constitution, the Blood and/or the body’s Yin: often caused by long term overwork and overthinking, a weakness of the body’s nourishing properties


Dark circles under the eyes / swelling or bags under the eyes


If blue in color, Deficiency of the Kidney: this relates to the deeper constitution. If yellow in color: Deficiency of the Spleen / Dampness


Once we’ve looked at your eyes, we consider other symptoms to determine what’s going on with you. For example, a patient who presents red eyes along with a runny nose, a scratchy throat, and an aversion to windy weather is showing us a Wind Heat invasion, while red eyes along with irritability, insomnia, stomach pain, and a bitter taste in the mouth is showing us Liver Fire.

A Chinese medicine diagnosis is like putting together pieces of a puzzle: we listen to what you say, we feel your pulse, and observe your tongue, look at your skin and your eyes. Our bodies are amazing, and they are always communicating with us. I encourage you to watch your own eyes and see what they may be trying to tell you!

[written by Julie]

Read Julie’s article about tongue diagnosis from the Spring Newsletter here.