People are at risk for eye injury in just about every aspect of life, from home to school, work, and recreational activities. Injuries can range from a minor scrape to a splash with a caustic substance, burns, or severe blunt trauma. In the home, common hazards are household products, such as cleaning agents and bleaches. Caustic agents, such as hair dye, can cause serious eye damage or loss of sight if the product gets in the eye. There are other dangers around the home. According to Prevent Blindness America, more than 11,000 children experience eye injuries each year from toys and home playground equipment. People who cut grass are at risk of a penetrating eye injury if the mower kicks up a stone or other type of object.
In the workplace, more than 2,000 eye injuries occur every day. Up to 20 percent of the injuries lead to temporary or permanent vision loss. Eye injuries in the workplace cause nearly $4 billion in lost wages and productivity. Some of the common causes of injury include welding equipment, power grinders, buffers, saws, drills, and sanders (Some of this equipment is also associated with eye injury in the home among do-it-yourselfers.)
Several sports activities are associated with a higher risk for eye injury. The American Academy of Ophthalmology estimates about 40,000 sports eye injuries occur every year. The sports at highest risk include baseball or softball, lacrosse, hockey, racquetball, basketball, paintball, and squash. Injuries can range from scratches on the cornea to blunt trauma (eye impact, which can cause inflammation of the iris, swelling of the retina, or fracture of the eye socket). Even otherwise relaxing recreational activities can lead to eye injury. Golfers have been known to be hit in the eye with a golf ball or tee. Fishermen have reportedly received eye lacerations or penetration injuries from fish hooks.
Those who spend a great deal of time outside are at risk for another type of eye injury – radiation burns from the sun. Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight can penetrate the eye. Excessive exposure to sunlight has been linked to an increased risk for photokeratitis (sunburn of the cornea), cataract, and macular degeneration.
Preventing Eye Injuries
According to Prevent Blindness America®, roughly 90 percent of eye accidents are preventable. An important step in preventing eye injuries is to be aware of the risk associated with various activities. Then, take steps to reduce that risk. Sunglasses are important tools to reduce the risk of eye exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays. Make sure the lenses protect against both UV A rays and UV B rays. Many experts also recommend purchasing wrap-around lenses that provide sun protection from the side.
While sunglasses may help protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation, they don't provide appropriate protection against other activities. Safety glasses are designed to be impact resistant. Look for lenses made of polycarbonate that have a certification seal from the American National Standards Institute. Eye safety glasses should fit comfortably and securely, and should be replaced when they become damaged or yellowed. Depending upon the activity, you may need safety glasses with side shields that prevent injury from all angles.
Around the home, be careful when using potentially dangerous substances. Wear safety glasses when using caustic substances. Safety glasses are also important eye protection when using power tools, cutting grass, or trimming bushes. For children, avoid toys that have sharp edges and those that are designed to be used as projectiles (such as toy rockets and pellet guns).
For information about eye safety:
American Academy of Ophthalmology, public website, http://www.medem.com
Prevent Blindness America, http://www.preventblindness.org