Michael Spann was 22 years old when he first began experiencing blood flowing from his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. The sudden tears of blood were paired with an intense migraine.
Since the first time he experienced the strange episode, the severe headaches and moments of streaming blood have remained, leaving him with a socially isolating condition that still has very little to no medical explanation.
“There’s three other people that have what I have, in Tennessee alone, which is strange,” Spann said in a video by The Tennessean.
After undergoing $4,300 of lab work, a Cleveland Clinic neurologist told Spann that his case was idiopathic. An idiopathic disease or disorder is one that arises with no specific reason or cause, or one for which the cause is unknown.
There have been similar cases of “crying blood,” according to Dr. James “Chris" Fleming, who is an ophthalmologist at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Hamilton Eye Institute in Memphis. Fleming has seen this condition in four other patients over an 11-year period, according to The Tennessean.
"Most of these were relatively young patients," Fleming told The Tennessean. "As they matured, the bleeding decreased, subsided and then stopped."
Even if doctors tried to probe for an answer in the tear duct involved, Fleming believes exploratory procedures can actually damage it further: "There probably is a cause, but it is a small tear duct that is only a millimeter or two or three in diameter," he told The Tennessean. "It's a tube. To get into that tube and examine that tube from one end to the other would cause scarring, and you could lose part of the tear duct. That's the dilemma that can cause problems, that we will leave someone with a permanent disability."
A possible explanation of the phenomenon is haemolacria, a condition where a person cries tears that are partially composed of blood. Haemolacria may occur as a symptom in various diseases, or may be caused by a tumor in the lacrimal apparatus (tear ducts). The symptom might also be common after a serious head injury or some form of trauma.
But cases like Spann’s or 19-year-old Calvino Inman’s that appeared in 2009 still remain a medical mystery, according to Dr. Barrett G. Haik, who treated Inman. “Only once every several years do you see someone with no obvious cause,” Haik told CNN in 2009. Inman, like Spann, began experiencing bloody tears suddenly, and was rushed to the emergency room but was left with no answers to the cause. And in January of this year, a woman named Yaritza Oliva also began developing the strange condition of crying blood.
While haemolacria may be a symptom of an underlying condition, the isolated symptom of bloody tears with no underlying disorder is what confounds most physicians. Though studies have been done on occult haemolacria in females relating to hormones and haemolacria in general, finding a reason behind Spann's case may remain a mystery for now.
“[Haemolacria] is just a descriptive term of the manifestation of the bloody tears,” Dr. Rex Hamilton, an ophthalmologist referring to Calvino Inman, told Good Morning America. “It’s a one-in-a-million kind of condition.”
According to Spann, the unknown condition has prevented him from being social and pursuing a career, as the bleeding gets in the way of his daily life.
"He will start talking to someone, and his eyes will start filling up with blood," Spann’s mother, Peggy Spann, told The Tennessean. "They haven't seen it before, and it will scare the living daylights out of them. It is very frustrating not to be able to treat or even get some kind of remission for it."
Dr. Fleming hopes to connect his patients who've experienced the condition in order to alleviate some of the stress and social isolation associated with crying blood, he told The Tennessean.