Friday, July 1, 2011

Wrestlers' sore eyes.

     Trachoma is an eye infection caused by Chlamydia trachomatis.  The organism can be transmitted by social contact through eye, nose, and throat secretions and remains the leading cause of infectious blindness worldwide.  It is estimated that over 80 million people worldwide have trachoma, and approximately 1 million are blind as a result. (1)

     The initial infection is often mild, causing a self-limited conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane surrounding the white of the eye).  Many cases do not produce any symptoms.  The duration and severity of the infection predict the likelihood of progression to blindness later in life. (2)  

     Trachoma used to be epidemic among early professional wrestlers.  It used to be referred to as "wrestlers sore eyes".  There are numerous references in the medical literature that attest to this.  For example, in the November 20, 1930 College of Physicians of Philadelphia Ophthalmology Society transactions there is a discussion about trachoma in wrestlers.  One physician shared his experience treating "a case of trachoma in one eye of a wrestler who at that time was champion of the world". (3)

     That trachoma was  common among professional wrestlers is also well illustrated in a presentation given on April 3, 1935 by A.F. MacCullan, President of the International Organization against Trachoma.  At the annual meeting of the Organization held in London, England he stated that "It is not generally know that nearly all professional wrestlers have trachoma". (4)  Phillips Thygeson in 1963 made similar observations in his work Epidemiologic observations on trachoma in the United States.  He concluded that the only clear cut occupation that was related to trachoma in the United States was wrestling, having personally treated several infected professional wrestlers. (5)

      Such a concern was the infection that it prompted the National Wrestling Association to state in the official 1939 rulebook that "No wrestler having trachoma (eye disease) shall be permitted, under any circumstances, to engage in any wrestling contest. The National Wrestling Association recommends that all wrestlers be given a rigid examination for evidence of trachoma before being allowed to enter the ring, and particular attention shall be given to the provisions of this rule". (6)

     The most famous professional wrestler to suffer from trachoma was Robert Freidrich, known worldwide as Ed "Strangler" Lewis (June 30, 1891-August 8, 1966).

Ed "Strangler" Lewis

     Trachoma no longer is a common infection.  An increased awareness of the modes of transmission and antibiotics such as oral azithromycin and topical tetracycline have significantly reduced the prevalence in developed countries.  Modern era American professional wrestlers no longer have to worry about the dreaded "wrestlers' sore eyes".


  1. Bull World Health Organ. 2004;82(11):844.
  2. Ophthalmic Epidemiol. 2001;8(2-3):137.

 The medical resource was used in the preparation of this blog.

 Photographs are for illustrative purposes only.  Wrestling with Death does not claim ownership.

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