Aquarium Fish Diseases

Exophthalmia In Fish: Pop eye disease – causes, treatment and prevention

Exophthalmia or Pop Eye disease is a fish disease that you really want to avoid. Not only is this quite painful (and potentially dangerous) for the fish, but it’s also a nuisance.

But as an aquarist, it’s important to understand this disease and what you can do to keep your fish safe.

This resource will teach you the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for Popeye’s disease. Being prepared is absolutely essential if you want to protect your tank.

What is Pop eye disease or Exophthalmia?

Pop eye disease is a condition that causes a fish’s eye to bulge, swell, or bulge out of the socket. Scientifically, the disease is known as exophthalmia.

The bulging appearance of the eye is the result of fluid buildup. The fluid can accumulate behind the eye or inside the eye itself (this all depends on the cause of the disease).

Popeye’s gravity can vary quite a bit. In milder cases, the eye may remain clear and have only a moderate amount of swelling.

However, more severe cases of the disease can damage the cornea and create a cloudy appearance. If left untreated, the swelling can become so severe that the eye will rupture and fall out.

To make matters worse, pop eye is often accompanied by other health problems. Opportunistic bacteria can take hold and cause serious infections. The same goes for fungal problems.

Pop eye can affect all fish regardless of species or environment. It also affects both freshwater and saltwater fish.

Author’s Note: Sometimes fish will only have Exophthalmia disease in one eye. These cases are unilateral. When both eyes are bulging, the condition is a case of bilateral potato eye.


Symptoms of Popeye’s disease in fish are subtle at first, so it can be difficult to catch the disease before it causes damage. Usually the eye will only protrude slightly in the early stages. But in a matter of days, the swelling can increase significantly and even affect the skin around the eye.

In terms of behavioral changes, you may notice less activity. Fish can spend more time hidden. They might even show disinterest in food.

Is it serious?

Exophthalmia disease is a serious condition that requires immediate attention. The sooner you can provide treatment, the better the prognosis.

In most cases, the disease itself is not fatal. However, there are many additional problems that could affect your fish. For example, your fish could lose sight in one or both eyes.

Infected eyes can deteriorate and fall out without treatment. In cases of unilateral pop eye disease, fish can still recover after losing a single eye. But your quality of life will be seriously affected. Potential attention problems are only made worse if they lose both eyes.

You will need to make changes to help keep your fish healthy. Carnivorous or predatory fish will need time to adjust to the drastic change. Meanwhile, peaceful fish will be more vulnerable to attack from others in the tank.

Beyond the vision problem, you also have to worry about the effects of other infections. Popeye can quickly cause septicemia. This occurs when the infection passes into the bloodstream.

It is a fatal infection. In most fatal cases of pop eye, septicemia is to blame. It can cause organ failure throughout the body. Your fish can also succumb to parasitic infections and a host of other potentially dangerous problems.

It goes without saying that Exophthalmia disease is a serious problem that you should not ignore.

common causes

There are a couple of potential causes that you will need to consider. If your fish is suffering from unilateral pop eye disease, a possible culprit is physical injury.

Fish are injury-prone creatures. Skittish and highly active species are at greater risk. The fish could accidentally bump into a rock and scratch their eye. Because they lack eyelids, the fish cannot provide last-second protection for their eyes in these cases.

Your fish could also have had a skirmish with another fish in the tank. Alternatively, you could have accidentally injured your fish with a net.

Whichever the case, the injury likely triggered an immune system response. This response is what causes the swelling.

Take a closer look at the eyes to be sure. Often you can see a scratch or a physical sign of injury.

Another common cause is an internal infection. Fish suffering from other ailments often experience popeye. For example, kidney failure, dropsy, or severe metabolic problems can cause fluid buildup.

One of the most common causes of pop eye is poor water conditions. This is often the case with bilateral Exophthalmia.

Author’s Note: Interestingly, it’s not sudden and drastic changes in water conditions that are going to put your fish at risk. Continuous long-term exposure to poor water quality is what you need to be concerned about.

Popeye disease often causes problems in overcrowded tanks or tanks that are not kept as they should. Regular exposure to high levels of ammonia and nitrate is thought to be to blame. Superstitious fumes in unhygienic conditions are also thought to put fish at risk.

While you may only see one pop eyed fish, others are at risk when conditions are poor. You will need to take quick action to ensure that the other fish do not succumb to the disease as well.

Treatment of Popeye’s disease

Treatment of Exophthalmia disease is not easy. Not only should you treat the underlying cause, but you should also address potential bacterial infections.

Below are the steps we recommend to treat Pop eye disease:

1. Check the water and make changes

Start by checking the water conditions. If ammonia and nitrate levels are detectable, you need to make changes to address the problem as soon as possible. Also, check the pH levels and temperature to make sure the parameters are within the acceptable range for your fish.

To protect other fish in the tank, perform water changes to improve conditions. You may also consider doing a complete deep cleaning to remove debris and keep ammonia levels in check.

2. Quarantine infected fish

In the meantime, it is better to remove the infected fish. Place them in a separate quarantine tank with optimal water conditions.

3. Add a little salt

To reduce swelling, you can treat the fish with Epsom salt. Add one to three teaspoons of Epsom salt for every five gallons of water in the treatment tank.

This should help reduce swelling over the next few days. As long as the water conditions are stable, corneal damage should also heal. During treatment, provide your fish with a balanced diet rich in vitamins.

4. Deal with bacteria

Next, you’ll need to address bacterial issues. This is where things get complicated. You can use standard antibiotic and antibacterial products to prevent bacterial infections and corneal damage from getting worse.

These are the types of products used to treat conditions such as fin rot and infections. Typically these products are applied directly to the water.

To treat internal infections, you will need a broad-spectrum antibiotic. These are usually recommended by a veterinarian and are administered orally. They come as food, making it easy to attack bacterial problems from within.

Treatment can last for several months in severe cases of Popeye. Continue to monitor your fish and water conditions. Over time, the eyes should deflate and return to normal.

To keep it safe, you may also want to treat the main tank with antibiotics. If one fish was affected due to poor water conditions, the other fish in your aquarium are still at risk.

Improve water conditions and use an all-purpose antibiotic to be safe!

Prevention Options

The best thing you can do is take steps to prevent pop eye from happening in the first place! Because this disease is caused by so many things, there is no single method to prevent it. You will need to be proactive and consider all potential causes.

Start by taking a look at your tank setup. If it’s overcrowded, consider upgrading to a larger tank or taking out some of the fish. Give your fish enough room to swim and breathe!

Bigger tanks are always better. With larger tanks, waste problems are less likely because the volume of water easily dilutes toxic chemicals.

To avoid poor water conditions, check levels regularly. Do 20 percent water changes every week and make sure your filter is in good condition.

Ideally, ammonia and nitrate levels should be undetectable at all times. If the compounds are detectable at any time, your tank may still be overcrowded. Alternatively, your filter may not be working as it should.

When you feed your fish, provide only enough food that they can eat in two minutes. If there are remains, remove them from the tank. This will preserve the quality of the water and decrease the chances of your fish experiencing popeye.

Finally, you can modify the decoration of your tank to avoid accidental injuries. Remove sharp edges or abrasive rocks. Some rocks and driftwood are necessary. But they should be relatively rounded and safe for all the fish in the tank.

Author’s Note: You may also want to reconsider how you interact with your fish! Get rid of the scratchy nets and be a little more careful when cleaning or moving decorative elements.

Preventing Pop eye disease is quite easy. Just adopt good care habits and keep an eye on your fish. If you notice any issues with hazardous elements or water parameters, take the necessary steps to keep your fish safe, healthy and happy.

final thoughts

Exophthalmia disease in fish is not fun. It is dangerous, painful and difficult to combat.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.

As you can see, there are many options for diagnosing, treating, and preventing pop eye disease in your tank. Be consistent with the effort you put into protecting your fish, and they will thrive as a result!

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