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Popeye In Saltwater Fish

Identification, Causes & Treatments


Popeye, also known as exophthalmos or exophthalmia, is more a condition than it is a disease. In saltwater fish it may affect one or both eyes, appearing as if the eye has air or fluid trapped inside, around or behind it, causing the eye to enlarge and bulge out of its socket, as if under pressure. Duration of this condition can be anywhere from several days to several weeks.

A variety of physical injuries or non-infectious and infectious diseases can lead to this clinical condition. Typically, popeye in itself is not contagious to other fishes in the community.

Probable Causes
Eye Trauma - Trauma to the eye is usually the reason a fish has this condition when only one eye is affected. Eye trauma can be attributed to a scratch, scrape of bruise to the eye from encounters such as fighting with other fish, net abrasion, or coming into contact with a stationary object or organism in the aquarium, and may be bacterial or fungal in nature as well. In most cases where popeye occurs from eye trauma, the unsightly looking eye does not seem to affect the fish's overall good health. The fish appears to be healthy, its appetite has not diminished, and more than likely all tank readings will be normal.

Treatment - In cases where eye trauma is involved it is suggested to not remove the fish from the aquarium, unless harassment from other fishes is becoming a threat. Handling of the fish can cause further irritation to the eye, as well as additional trauma. In most minor cases the injury will heal in time as the condition is allowed to run its course. To help aid in the continued health and healing of the fish during the course of this condition, oral feedings of foods soaked in selcon or another type of liquid vitamin, along with foods mixed with a broad spectrum antibiotic such as tetracycline, chloramphenicol or kanamycin are suggested. Eventually the eye will deflate, but may result in various conclusions.

  • In minor eye trauma situations, the eye will usually return to its normal appearance without blindness.
  • In more serious cases where treatment is not provided or proves to be ineffective, the eye may appear colorless and gray, resulting in blindness to the eye, but is not necessarily fatal.
  • In cases where one or both eyes have sustained severe trauma and treatment is not provided or proves to be ineffective, the eye(s) may burst or disappear altogether. This can be such a traumatic event that the fish may not recover and death will occur.
Keep in mind that if both eyes are traumatized, the fish may not be able to see at all. The attempt to orally feed a fish with this type of severe condition is most likely impossible. Therefore, the fish should be carefully moved to a QT (quarantine tank) and treated with a broad spectrum topical antibiotic, such as skin absorbed kanamycin sulfate based antibiotics like Aquatronics' Kanacyn or Spectrogram, as well as Neomycin, and Maracyn or Maracyn-Two. Consult with your local fish store for more medication recommendations, as these are just a few on the market. We suggest that you do not treat the main aquarium, as many antibiotics can weaken or kill the biological filter.

Non-Infectious and Infectious Diseases - Trauma to both eyes can occur, but usually when both eyes are affected or more than one fish is showing signs of this condition, suspicion of a non-infectious or infectious disease should be considered. Popeye can be an outward sign that another disease is present which may be of bacterial, fungal or other origin. As examples, bilateral exophthalmia combined with ascites (a swollen abdomen from accumulation of body fluids in the abdominal cavity) is often seen in kidney disease. Popeye is sometimes considered to be manifested by an internal infection called Ichthyophonus hoferi (fungal disease), and is also a possible sign of Vibrio (bacterial disease). If the condition is resultant from a disease, the fish may succumb to complications of the disease rather than the popeye, if the actual disease is not properly diagnosed and treated.

Treatment - In cases where the condition is stemming from a non-infectious disease , follow the same treatment suggestions as with eye trauma outlined above.

Treatment - If the condition is stemming from an infectious disease , carefully remove the fish from the main aquarium, to prevent spread of the infectious disease to other tank inhabitants, and place the fish in a QT for proper treatment of the underlying disease, as well as the popeye.

Next Page > Page 2 - Other Possible Causes

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