Eye socket depth

I was watching the movie “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” the other day, and there’s a scene where Johnny Depp is searching the now dead Cheech Marin, lifts up his eye patch and finds a rolled up paper that he was looking for. If you were to actually lose your eye, how much space would there be in there? Would it be dry or would it be wet? Could you actually keep things in your eye socket?

According to this site, the volume of the orbit (the space where the eye is) is 30 cc. However, if you lose an eye, or have an eye removed surgically, I doubt that all the orbital contents are removed as well. In fact, I’m sure that the muscles would be left in so as to eventually allow them to be attached to a prosthetic eye. Since the average eye ball has a radius of 1.2 cm, the average eye volume is just over 7 cc. So, assuming that the majority of the orbital tissue is intentionally left behind during enucleation surgery (removal of the eyeball), I doubt there’d be more than 10 or 12 cc of space freed up (for secret messages and the like :slight_smile: ).

People come in different head sizes, of course. But let’s say typically, the exterior volume of an eye is 7.2 cc with an axial length of 24 mm.

Even if this could be done, wouldn’t it cause a massive infection? Do people with fake eyes decontaminate them before insertion?

I went to the opticians and they said I have an axis of 155, what does this mean? My sister has an axis of 105. I don’t get it.

They may be referring to the angular orientation, in degrees, of your astigmatism. They measure this so they know how to orient the corrective lenses.

So which one of us has better vision? Or is the most “normal.”


“I’ll keep an eye out for you!”


Hmmmm…so it doesn’t look like I’d be able to fit this high powered laser in there. Back to the drawing board.

By my reasoning, a complete WAG, you should be able to fit something the size of an eyeball in there. :smiley:

Well how big is an eyeball compared to some ordinary everyday sphere? And if the entire thing were removed with a good deal of muscle tissue (let’s talk primitive surgery here), and there was no infection, maybe because the hole was cauterized by a red-hot coal or something, would it be a dry hole or a wet hole? And no, I’m not trying to be dirty.

An eyeball is roughly as wide as the “Post Reply” button at the bottom of this page.

Going by KarlGuass’s statement, I would guess that it would be the size of a large grape or a pinball. Folded right, I could see getting a piece of paper in there. Though I suspect it wouldn’t be too comfortable unless the paper had a relatively cloth-like texture.

Warning: The following forensic pathology information may be not safe for brains. Read with care. It’s all true and standard procedure, but you have been warned.

I took an eyeball out yesterday. Two of them, actually. We do this through an approach through the supra-orbital plates, after the top of the cranium is off and the brain is out, using a Stryker saw. It’s actually fairly easy to do once you get the hang of it. It probably took me twenty eyeballs to get the hang of it.

They were infant eyeballs, so I can’t really answer your question about the size of the adult eyeball; I have only once in my career taken out adult eyeballs, and I don’t really remember the exact size. I can tell you that the sclera (whites of the eyes) as seen from the front gives you a pretty good idea of the dimensions. All the sclera belongs to the eyeball. That said, they are surprisingly small when you take them out. Probably three or four would fit in the palm of my hand.

We take them out to put them in formaldehyde to fix so that we can section them to look for retinal hemorrhages. These are part of the shaken baby / shaken impact syndrome.

The hardest part about removing the eye is detaching the eyelid in front from the sclera. Particularly the upper eyelid - it’s not easy to do without accidentally slicing into the eyelid. The eyelid would probably bleed pretty badly in a live person, though if you could put pressure on it, it would stop bleeding. It has a hard backing (the tarsal plate) which you could use to press against. For some reason the upper eyelid is the only one that ever gives me trouble. The lower one comes away pretty easily.

The eyeball is surrounded by thin little strips of muscle that rotate it from side to side. As medical students we memorized all of them - I remember the mnemonic, LR6, SO4 - then we promptly forgot them. We know if your eyeballs don’t move freely when we move a gloved finger in a square in front of your face that there’s something pretty bad wrong with you. But how many docs who write “eomi”, extra-ocular movements intact, on an intake form, can remember which the extra-ocular muscles are? I cut them yesterday without remembering their names.

The thing is, Inigo, these aren’t hefty muscles, because they don’t have to be. All they have to do is partially rotate a sphere that doesn’t weigh much. (I’ve never weighed an eyeball - if I remember, next time I have to take one out, in the interests of the Straight Dope, I will pop it onto the scale before I put it into formalin.) They are paired little strips that look more like pencil-wide strips of cloth than steak. They are easily removable, too.

After the muscle is detached and I have inserted a scalpel up over the white of the eye in front to detach the eyelid, I have to tug the eyeball back. It’s hard to do because the eyeball is surrounded by soft layers of fat that are only slightly attached. Sometimes I push up on the eyelid with my gloved finger in front to see if I can pop it up through the opening I have made through the supraorbital plates. That makes it easier.

The last thing to remove is the optic nerve before it heads through the bony foramen. It’s easily cut with a scalpel.

I am quite sure that a primitive surgeon could do this (although if they weren’t skilled the eyelid would get cut) and the bleeding wouldn’t be too bad. The fat that remains would probably grow over some of the socket. Infection would of course be a danger, particularly if bacteria could go up the optic nerve sheath; they’d reach the brain in short order, and you’d be dead of meningitis in a day or so. But if they didn’t, you might well recover.

I thnk you could probably fit a large marble in there. Bear in mind that there would be uneven pillows of fat decreasing the space.

Anyone have access to a skull? I’ll try to remember to get some rough measurements on one of our skull sockets when I go into work.


If you’ve removed beyond 20 eyeballs, why are those all from children? Is there something you’re looking for that doesn’t happen to adults?

Sage Rat,

I’ve probably performed between 300 and 500 autopsies on children in the 13 years I’ve been doing forensics, and I didn’t have to take the eyeballs out in the vast majority of them, because they were SIDS deaths. But any time we suspect homicide by shaken baby, I have to take the eyeballs.

I did mention that in the middle of that very long post up there, but I don’t blame you if your eyeballs skipped around a bit up there.

Ahah. Yes, I seemed to have skipped over this (a couple times even.)

You are assuming that ever single Doper who reads this post has a monitor of identical size and resolution.

That is in all aspects a completely false assumption. I use an Apple 23" Cinema Display at home, but could just as well have viewed your post using a Tréo hand-held device.

Some people use math, and measurement, and stuff… to tell other people how big things are. :slight_smile:


I already gave the measurement in millimeters (see above). If a monitor’s resolution is set correctly, and it’s not some hand-held device. the button will appear the same size.

Just wanted to mention that in response to the first serious reply above, the socket in Once Upon a Time in Mexico was hardly removed with the expectation of fitting a prosthetic.