Did you know the world record for the “farthest eyeball pops” exists? The record holder in the male category is Sidney de Carvalho Mesquita from Brazil. He secured his 2023 Guinness World Record by popping his eyes 18.2 mm (0.71 inches) outwards.1
The female record holder is Kim Goodman from the U.S. Kim can pop her eyes 11.9 mm (0.47 inches) outwards.2
There are several reasons eyes may pop out of the socket. Besides being a rare gift for some, bulging eyes could also signal a medical issue.
In this article, we look at the following:
- Causes of eyes popping out of their sockets
- What to do if your eyes pop out of their socket
- Early signs of popping eyes
- Common questions about eyes popping out of the socket
Can Eyes Really Pop Out of the Socket?
Although it’s a rare occurrence, eyes can pop or protrude out of the socket. The medical term for this phenomenon is globe luxation.
The human eye has an intricately woven group of muscles, ligaments, and tendons to hold the eyeball within the socket. For someone to experience eyeball popping, it would require high pressure behind the eye, which does not happen that easily. Most cases of globe luxation are caused by trauma such as impact injury to the head or eye.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, there were only 109 cases of post-traumatic globe luxation by 2021.3 This rare condition is more common among males than females.
What to Do If Eyes Pop Out of Socket
If your eyes pop out of their sockets, the first thing to do is dial 911 or your locality’s emergency number to dispatch medics. A family member can also rush you to a hospital if it’s nearby.
As you wait for emergency services, follow these first-aid steps:
- Cover the eyes. Use a clean, sterile cotton dressing or cloth to gently cover the eye (avoid coming into contact or applying pressure on the eyeball. You can also use a clean cup to cover the eye.
- Restrict eye movement. Eye movement may cause the optic nerve and other ocular muscles to pull, causing further damage to your vision. Eyeball movement may also cause friction with eyelids, causing pain.
- Keep the eyes moist. Stay away from wind/dry air, which can dry the eyeball, causing pain. Dampening the covering (such as gauze or cloth) with sterile saline solution or clean water can help retain moisture.
The more your eyeballs are exposed to the exterior environment, the higher the risk of damages occurring. Do not try to reposition the eye into the socket.
This must be exclusively performed by a qualified ophthalmologist using a special instrument. Your eye doctor will ensure your eyes return to their normal position and treat any underlying causes.
Seeing an ophthalmologist immediately is crucial. Severe globe luxation can cause exposure keratitis (EK), optic nerve damage, poor vision, or complete blindness.
What Causes the Eyes to Pop Out?
Globe luxation may be traumatic, voluntary, or spontaneous.4 Although some people like Sidney de Carvalho and Kim Goodman can pop their eyes voluntarily for entertainment purposes, eye experts discourage such a practice as it can cause severe damage to the eye.
Other reasons why eyes pop out of the socket include:
1. Post-traumatic Globe Luxation
Head or eye injury can cause bleeding behind the eye, leading to increased pressure that pops out the eyeball.5 Immediate medical attention is required to reposition the eye within the orbit and diagnose potential injuries.
2. Underlying Immune Disorders
Thyroid eye disease (TED) or Graves disease, caused by an overproduction of thyroid hormones, leads to the inflammation of orbital tissues.
Some tumors, such as neuroblastoma (nerve tissues) and some soft tissue sarcomas, have the potential to grow within the eye socket and displace the eyeball from its position.
4. Eye Socket Infections
Infections such as orbital cellulitis or severe sinus infections can cause inflammation and swelling in the tissues surrounding the eye, resulting in eyeball protrusion.
5. Spontaneous Globe Luxation (SGL)
Spontaneous globe luxation is a dramatic popping of the eye that can occur without conscious effort with or without cause. It can result in complications like optic neuropathy.
Predisposing factors may include:
- Thyroid eye disease
- Crouzon syndrome (shallow eye sockets)
- Floppy eyelid syndrome
6. Exophthalmos or Proptosis
Exophthalmos is characterized by partial bulging of the eyes. This condition can affect your natural facial expression, causing a constant startled appearance.
Proptosis mainly results from thyroid gland issues (hyperthyroidism), tumors, severe trauma, etc.
Signs an Eye Will Pop Out of Its Socket
Normal eyes should have no visible sclera (white of the eye) between the top of the iris (the colored part of the eye) and the upper lid. If you notice the sclera showing, it’s often a sign that the eye is popping out of the socket.6
Other signs include:
- Pain or discomfort in the eye, especially when moving them around
- Pressure behind the eye due to ruptured blood vessels
- Eye inflammation and redness due to swelling of blood vessels
- Pain and swelling around the eye
- Double vision (diplopia)
- Bulging or protruding eye
- Vision loss/blurry vision
- Light sensitivity (photophobia)
- Lacrimation, or eye secretions/shedding tears
Some problems can be resolved easily if caught early. If you notice any of these signs, seek professional advice from your eye doctor.
The treatment choices depend on the extent of ocular damage and the underlying cause. Common treatments for popped eyes include:
- Manual repositioning. Your eyeball can be manually repositioned safely as long as there is no damage to the optic nerve and extraocular muscles. This can be done under anesthesia at your doctor’s office using specialized tools.
- Surgery. Your eye doctor will suggest repair surgery if your optic nerve is too damaged or detached. Orbital decompression surgery can create more room for the eye by enlarging the orbit. Your doctor may also recommend muscle surgery to correct abnormal muscles.
Common Questions on Eyes Popping Out of Socket
Below are common questions people ask about eyes popping out of the socket:
How is proptosis diagnosed and treated?
To diagnose proptosis, your eye doctor will conduct a comprehensive eye exam using various technologies: slit lamp test, ophthalmoscope, tonometer, computed tomography (CT) scan, or an MRI to visualize your ocular structures.
They may also do tests to check for underlying conditions such as thyroid disease. Treatments include artificial tears, antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory medications.
Is surgery necessary when an eye pops out of its socket?
If your eyeball protrudes and pops out of the socket, surgery may be necessary if ocular muscles and nerves are damaged. If it recurs, a doctor may recommend a surgical procedure called lateral tarsorrhaphy.7
The procedure involves sewing the top and lower eyelids partially or entirely using sutures to keep the eyeball and cornea enclosed to create a better environment for healing.
- Although rare, eyes can pop or protrude out of the socket. This phenomenon is called globe luxation. Most cases of globe subluxation are caused by trauma.
- While some people can pop out their eyes voluntarily or spontaneously (without cause), some eyes pop out of the socket due to trauma.
- Other causes of bulging eyes include thyroid dysfunction, orbital infections, intraocular eye pressure, ocular tumors, etc.
- Research shows there were only 109 cases of post-traumatic globe subluxation by 2021. The condition is more common among males than females.
- If your eyes pop out of their sockets, don’t panic; protect them and call emergency services for professional assistance.
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