One of the defining pieces of a modern soldier’s kit is a pair of sunglasses, because those shades offer protection not only against the sun but against ballistic fragments. Fragments aren’t the only danger though. It turns out that shock waves alone can damage eyes:
A new study by the University of Texas San Antonio and U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research has found that blast waves themselves — not just the dirt and debris propelled by the blast — can cause significant and permanent damage to the eyes.
In an experiment that had the scientists blasting away at pig eyes with a high-powered air cannon, researchers learned the shock wave alone can damage portions of the eye, including the sclera — the white part — the retina, the optic nerve and more.
Among the most commonly seen injuries in the blasted porcine eyeballs was retinal detachment.
“Detachment is more common to older adults. But two clinicians on our team, an Army optometrist and ophthalmologist, told us this was something they were seeing in troops and couldn’t explain. That gave us the idea to look for this sort of damage in this study,” said Mathew Reilly, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UTSA.
DoD data shows that ocular injuries account for 13 percent of all battlefield injuries and roughly 80 percent of eye injuries in combat are associated with blasts.