An eyepatch or eye pad is a small patch that is worn in front of one eye. It may be a cloth patch attached around the head by an elastic band or by a string, an adhesive bandage, or a plastic device which is clipped to a pair of glasses. It is often worn by people to cover a lost or injured eye, but it also has a therapeutic use in children for the treatment of amblyopia. (See orthoptics and vision therapy.) Eyepatches used to block light while sleeping are referred to as a sleep mask. Eyepatches associated with pirates are a stereotype originating from fiction.
- 1 History
- 2 Eyecare treatment
- 3 Use of Eyepatch for Dark Adaptation
- 4 Sea Sickness & “Eye Patches”
- 5 Notable eyepatch-wearers
- 6 See also
- 7 Eyepatches in popular culture
- 8 References
- 9 External links
In the years before advanced medicine and surgery, eyepatches were common for people who had lost an eye. They were particularly prevalent among members of dangerous occupations, such as soldiers and sailors who could lose an eye in battle, as well as blacksmiths who used them to cover one eye for protection from sparks while working. While stereotypically associated with pirates, there is no evidence to suggest the historicity of eye patch wearing pirates before several popular novels of the 19th century (see Pirate Eyepatches below).
Eye patching is used in the orthoptic management of children at risk of lazy eye (amblyopia), especially strabismic or anisometropic amblyopia. These conditions can cause visual suppression of areas of the dissimilar images by the brain such as to avoid diplopia, resulting in a loss of visual acuity in the suppressed eye and in extreme cases in blindness in an otherwise functional eye. Patching the good eye forces the amblyopic eye to function, thereby causing vision in that eye to be retained.
It has been pointed out that eye patching does not provide the conditions that are necessary in order to develop or improve binocular vision. Recently, efforts have been made to propose alternative treatments of amblyopia that do allow to improve binocular sight, for example using binasal occlusion or partially frosted spectacles in place of any eye patch, using alternating occlusion goggles or using methods of perceptual learning based on video games or virtual reality games for enhancing binocular vision.
Extraocular muscle palsy
To initially relieve double vision (diplopia) caused by an extra-ocular muscle palsy, an eye care professional may recommend using an eyepatch. This can help to relieve the dizziness, vertigo and nausea that are associated with this form of double vision.
Use of Eyepatch for Dark Adaptation
Aircraft pilots used to use an eye patch, or close one eye to preserve night vision when there was disparity in the light intensity within or outside their aircraft, such as when flying at night over brightly lit cities, so that one eye could look out, and the other would be adjusted for the dim lighting of the cockpit to read unlit instruments and maps. The FAA still recommends, "a pilot should close one eye when using a light to preserve some degree of night vision". Some military pilots have worn a lead-lined or gold-lined eyepatch, to protect against blindness in both eyes, in the event of a nuclear blast or laser weapon attack.
Eyepatches are not currently used by military personnel; modern technology has provided an array of other means to preserve and enhance night vision, including red-light and low-level white lights, and night vision devices.
Pirate Eye Patches: The Mythbusters Pirate Episode
It has been speculated that sailors who often went above and below deck might have used an eyepatch to keep one eye adjusted to the darkness below decks. According to this episode of Mythbusters, the strong sunlight while above deck on an oceangoing vessel could require minutes of adaptation to the dim lighting below deck. With virtually no light sources below deck, sailors would have to rely heavily upon their eyes to adjust. In the critical moments of modifying the rigging, navigating, and especially during battle, those minutes were too precious. A simple switch of the patch from one eye to the other might have saved time when going between decks.
This speculation was made without attribution or evidence that pirates wore eye patches with any more frequency than other sailors, or even the general public of the time. This speculation is also contrary to numerous contemporaneous descriptions and portraits of known pirates. This speculation assumes several premises for which evidence to the contrary exists. No evidence has been presented to link eye patch wearing pirates with eye patches to the well known physiological process of dark adaptation.
In Episode 71, the ability to navigate an obstacle course using a dark adapted eye was tested by the hosts, and the conclusion was that this hypothesis was found to be “plausible” (as opposed to the other two options “busted” or “true”).
- “Pirates wore eyepatches to preserve night vision in one eye. PLAUSIBLE
- This myth works under the assumption that the eye covered with the eyepatch is already accustomed to low light conditions, while the other eye must take time to accustom. The Mythbusters were sent into a dark room with light-accustomed eyes and were told to complete certain objectives. Their movements were hampered by the darkness and it took them five minutes to finish. When they went into a rearranged but equally dark room with an eye that was covered for thirty minutes, the Mythbusters were able to complete the test in a fraction of the time. As a control test, the Mythbusters then went back into the same exact room with light-accustomed eyes and ran into the same difficulty as the first test. The myth was deemed plausible because there is no recorded historical precedent for this myth.”
Many of the speculations for associating pirates wearing eye patches for dark adaptation are unsupported, including:
- The potential advantage of a dark adapted eye over stereoscopic vision;
- The potential advantage of a dark adapted eye over depth perception;
- The potential advantage of a dark adapted eye over bilateral peripheral vision;
- The alleged relative darkness of lower decks with the existence of passive ambient lighting below decks through hatches, gun ports and deck prisms;
- The alleged reasons to go from bright daylight to the darkness below decks quickly;
- The lack of any other references to this strategy in the manuals and regulations of national navies.
Sea Sickness & “Eye Patches”
It has been suggested that eye patches can help with sea sickness, however this refers to covering both eyes with a sleep mask or similar device. It is generally accepted that keeping both eyes open and focusing on the distant horizon is more effective, since sea sickness results from the sensory inputs of the eyes and the vestibular senses.
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Eyepatches in popular culture
Eyepatches have become associated with a particular stereotype of pirates who operated in the Caribbean and Atlantic during the colonization period of the new world. This stereotype often includes a parrot on the shoulder, a tri-corner hat or head scarf, a cutlass, a flintlock or double flint-lock pistols in a large waistband, and large buccaner style boots (alternatively, a peg leg).
“Talk Like A Pirate Day”  is celebrated on September 19, and is a tongue in cheek opportunity to employ the stereotypical affectations of 17th and 18th century pirates by employing both dialect and vocabulary associated with pirates in popular culture.
Many anime and manga characters are depicted wearing eyepatches, such as Badou Nails from Dogs: Bullets & Carnage, and Rikka Takanashi from Chūnibyō Demo Koi ga Shitai!, and Mei Misaki from Another and Ciel Phantomhive from "Black Butler" .
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