What are the causes, symptoms, and treatments for Horner’s syndrome?

Symptom Database

Horner’s syndrome is a rare neurologic condition that affects the eye and its surrounding structures. It is characterized by a combination of symptoms, including drooping eyelid (ptosis), constricted pupil (miosis), and decreased sweating (anhidrosis) on one side of the face. This syndrome is caused by damage to the sympathetic nerves that control these functions. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments for Horner’s syndrome is crucial for early diagnosis and appropriate management.

Causes of Horner’s Syndrome

Horner’s syndrome can be caused by various underlying conditions or injuries that affect the sympathetic nerves. Some common causes include:

  • Trauma: Injuries to the head, neck, or chest can damage the sympathetic nerves and lead to Horner’s syndrome.
  • Tumors: Tumors in the chest, neck, or brain can compress or invade the sympathetic nerves, causing the syndrome.
  • Stroke: A stroke affecting the brainstem or the carotid artery can disrupt the sympathetic pathway and result in Horner’s syndrome.
  • Infections: Certain infections, such as herpes zoster (shingles) or tuberculosis, can affect the sympathetic nerves and lead to the syndrome.
  • Other medical conditions: Horner’s syndrome can also be associated with conditions like migraines, multiple sclerosis, or cluster headaches.

Symptoms of Horner’s Syndrome

Horner’s syndrome is characterized by a specific set of eye symptoms that occur on one side of the face. These symptoms include:

  • Drooping eyelid (ptosis): The affected eyelid may appear lower than the other side, giving a droopy appearance.
  • Constricted pupil (miosis): The pupil on the affected side is smaller than the normal pupil.
  • Decreased sweating (anhidrosis): Sweating may be reduced or absent on the affected side of the face.

In addition to these eye symptoms, individuals with Horner’s syndrome may also experience other associated symptoms, depending on the underlying cause. These can include headache, facial pain, or changes in vision.

Treatments for Horner’s Syndrome

The treatment of Horner’s syndrome focuses on addressing the underlying cause and managing the associated symptoms. The specific treatment options may vary depending on the individual case and the severity of the syndrome. Some common approaches include:

Addressing the Underlying Cause

If Horner’s syndrome is caused by an identifiable underlying condition, such as a tumor or infection, treating that condition is essential. This may involve surgical removal of the tumor, antibiotics for infections, or other appropriate interventions.


In some cases, medications may be prescribed to manage the symptoms associated with Horner’s syndrome. These can include eye drops to dilate the pupil and reduce ptosis, or medications to alleviate pain or other associated symptoms.

Rehabilitation and Supportive Measures

Rehabilitation exercises and supportive measures can help individuals with Horner’s syndrome manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. These may include:

  • Eye exercises: Specific exercises can be performed to strengthen the muscles around the eye and improve eyelid function.
  • Moisturizing eye drops: Lubricating eye drops can help alleviate dryness and discomfort caused by decreased tear production.
  • Sunglasses: Wearing sunglasses can protect the eyes from excessive light and reduce sensitivity caused by miosis.
  • Support groups: Joining support groups or seeking counseling can provide emotional support and valuable insights from others living with Horner’s syndrome.

It is important to note that while treatment can help manage the symptoms of Horner’s syndrome, complete resolution may not always be possible, especially if the underlying cause is irreversible or unknown. Regular follow-up with a healthcare professional is crucial to monitor the condition and adjust the treatment plan as needed.

In conclusion, Horner’s syndrome is a rare eye disorder characterized by drooping eyelid, constricted pupil, and decreased sweating on one side of the face. It is caused by damage to the sympathetic nerves and can be associated with various underlying conditions. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential for managing the symptoms and addressing the underlying cause. While complete resolution may not always be possible, individuals with Horner’s syndrome can benefit from a combination of medical interventions, rehabilitation exercises, and supportive measures to improve their quality of life.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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