Can you really tell if a person is dead by their eyes

Is it proven that you can tell if someone is dead or not solely by looking at their eyes or is that an old wives tale.

I don’t know about that, but I always thought you could tell by the “funny way they’re not moving anymore” method.


The only time I ever saw a doctor make such an examination he listened for a heart beat, felt in the neck for a pulse, held a mirror up to the nose and mouth looking for condensation, did a couple of other things I’ve forgotten, and last of all lightly flicked the eyelashes with his finger looking for a reaction.

I know that if you flash a light into the eyes of a dead person their pupils won’t contract like a living person’s will. That would be a pretty good way to tell.

I think there are other reasons a living person’s pupils wouldn’t constrict, like if they are under the influence of certain drugs for example, so it’s not really a good way to tell.

I’m sure one of our medical professionals will be by soon to elaborate, but in the meantime, no pupillary response certainly doesn’t imply that you’re dead; you can get it with a deep coma as well.

A corpses eyes look different for two main reasons – there’s no blood circulating in the retina, so light is reflected back differently, and also the surface of the eyeball dries out.

A dead person’s eyes look, well… dead.

If I ever saw anyone with eyes like that who also had a pulse, I’d run away fast. Eek.

Don’t know about humans, but I have looked into the eyes of several animals as they died or were put to sleep and you can DEFINITELY see the light go out. They’re alive; then the eyes turn “dead.” It is a very apparent and obvious change.

If I can piggyback…

Is there any truth to what I saw on what may have been an episode of CSI? A father saw a picture of his dead daughter, but the protagonist tells the father that the daughter is still alive because the daughter had red-eye in the picture.

Well, the red-eye is from light reflected off blood vessels in the retina so there might be something in that one.

There deffinately is a difference between a the eye of a person who is alive and someone who is dead. Genreally speaking, even when on drugs or with some other medical problem your pupil will react atleast a little bit to light, whereas the pupils of someone who is dead are fixed and dilated. Also, as has been earlier stated, the light just goes out.

Fixed and dilated pupils are one of the criteria to determin death. Asystole, Apena, and cool/pale skin are some others.

Pupils constrict if you shine a light on them. This is looked for routinely, but lack of consrtriction can also occur due to brainstem ischemia, drugs, eye surgery, just not having very reactive pupils, etc. For this reasons doctors often do other tests, including looking for the Doll’s eye reflex (rotate the head and see if the eyes remain fixed or “move like a doll”… try this on your friend and then a dead guy to see the difference) or putting cold or warm water in the ear and seeing if (and how) the eyes move. The eyes look sunken and dehydrated if the person has been dead awhile, with the famous fixed and dilated pupils.

I would usually listen for heart sounds, pulse, breath sounds, take a temperature, check the pupils for constriction and Dolls eyes. I would do other tests if there was still some doubt, perhaps get another opinion.

At what point would you rap his forehead with a hammer? :wink:

Look into the eyes as you poke them with a stick

I usually test the pain response by rubbing their sternum (breast bone) or bending their little fingers. Leaves fewer scars. :slight_smile:

Yeah, I’ve given up on the testicle squeeze.

So that’s what they’re doing on the medical shows when they rub the victims chest with their knuckles!

I find the idea of a doctor having to get a second opinion on whether or not someone is dead a rather…unsettling concept.

Why wouldn’t your pupils dilate if you’re in a coma? Isn’t that an automatic response to light?

Sure, it’s automatic – but it’s not like the pupil is responding directly to photostimulus – the response is mediated by the brain.

Depending on what’s physically going on with the brain, the pupils’ sensitivity to light may be impaired.

A midbrain lesion may cause the pupils to stay “halfsies” with no light response. They may be stuck as pinpoints if there’s a haemorrhage around the bundle of nerves that connect the medulla oblongata and the cerebellum. That sort of stuff.

[/Everything I know about anatomy I learned from Quincy and House.]