Torn Eyelid Injury

Q. My husband is boarding a 10-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse mare for a friend. When she was loaded in the trailer, she bumped the outside of her eye and split the flesh straight out from the corner about a half inch. It did not damage her eyeball. She has bumped it a couple of more times since then and is extremely head shy due to the discomfort. The top eyelid is swollen. Should this have been sewn up by a veterinarian at the time it was done, and is there anything besides keeping it clean and applying antibiotic salve to help the healing? We had this same thing happen a few years ago, and the horse's eye healed up fine without any scarring or problems of this sort.

Dianne Hardy, via e-mail

A. Your questions are all good ones--they address specific facts about the eye that every horse owner should understand.

First, if a horse rams its head, which weighs around 60 pounds, into a hard object like a trailer, either the sinus cavities or the orbit can be fractured. The sinus cavities are each about the size of a pack of cards, and the bone that covers them is thinner than a cracker. The orbit is a ring-like socket of bone that frames the eyeball, and much of it is only as thick as your thumb. Fractures of either of these fragile structures can result in serious infections. They also can pinch the tissues around the eye, blocking the tear duct or altering the mobility of the globe. And even if the outside of the eye looks normal, really hard blows can cause bleeding inside the eye or disruption of the lens or retina. Such injuries can be blinding.

Second, the skin that forms the eyelids needs to have a certain tension to hold tears and allow blinking, which spreads tears that moisten and nourish the cornea. If the eyelid margin is torn as you describe, blinking might fail to lubricate the cornea, and the lid sac might not hold tears well. The result can be a dry, painful, ulcerated eye or a chronically runny one. Neither is pleasant.

The bottom line is any injury that tears skin or causes painful swelling around the eye should receive immediate veterinary attention. I would have advised a visit on the day of this injury. But even if some time has elapsed, it would still be a good idea to have your veterinarian out to look at the mare. Surgery might be needed to repair the lid anatomy or treat associated trauma, and topical or systemic medication might ease the mare's discomfort.

About the Author

Ann Dwyer, DVM

Ann Dwyer, DVM, is a practitioner at the Genesee Valley Equine Clinic in Scottsville, N.Y.

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