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The Halifax disaster (1917): eye injuries and their care
  1. Chryssa N McAlister1,
  2. T Jock Murray2,
  3. Hesham Lakosha3,
  4. Charles E Maxner2
  1. 1Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  2. 2Department of Medicine (Neurology), Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  3. 3Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  1. Correspondence to: Dr C Maxner Room 3819, Halifax Infirmary, Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, 1796 Summer Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 3A7; cmaxner{at}


Explosions, man-made and accidental, continue to require improved emergency medical responses. In the 1917 Halifax Explosion, an inordinate number of penetrating eye injuries occurred. A review of their treatment provides insight into a traumatic event with unique ophthalmological importance. Archived personal and government documents relating to the Halifax Explosion were reviewed at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Canada, along with a review of current literature. Twelve ophthalmologists treated 592 people with eye injuries and performed 249 enucleations. Sixteen people had both eyes enucleated. Most of the eye injuries were caused by shards of shattered glass. A Blind Relief Fund was established to help treat and rehabilitate the visually impaired. The injured were given pensions through the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which continue to this day. Sympathetic ophthalmia was the feared complication for penetrating eye injuries and a common indication for enucleation in 1917. Even so, the severity and the overwhelming number of eye injuries sustained during the Halifax Explosion made it impossible for lengthy eye-saving procedures to be performed. Enucleation was often the only option.

  • EENT, eye, ear, nose and throat
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  • Competing interests: None.

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