August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, and as the prevalence of eye injuries is highest among children, it’s important for you and your kiddos to be aware of steps you can take to prevent them. While an eye injury can occur at any time and in any environment, close to 50% of injuries occur during sports and recreational activities. Adequate prevention is important and can probably eliminate most eye injuries. Here’s what you need to know about your child’s eye safety:|
What causes eye injuries?
Injuries to the eye and surrounding structures can be caused by an object hitting the eye—something blunt, such as a ball or fist, or sharp, like a stick or projectile—or exposure to a caustic substance like a cleaning solution or pool supplies.
What are some common injuries to the eyeball itself?
The clear surface of the front of the eye (the cornea) can be scratched, and often causes pain, redness, and tearing. Treatment usually involves antibiotic eye drops or ointment and occasionally a pressure patch on the eye.
Sharp objects (like a stick, a shard of glass, or metallic item) can actually cut the surface of the eye, causing a laceration. This type of injury places a child at risk for permanent loss of vision, and requires prompt attention (usually surgical intervention) by an ophthalmologist to prevent complications and assure the best visual recovery.
Blunt trauma can cause bleeding inside the eye (hyphema). The blood in the eye can cause elevated pressure, which can result in permanent vision loss if not treated.
What about injuries to the area around the eye?
Injuries to the eyelid or bones around the eye could also affect eye health, and should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist. Eyelid injuries usually occur as a result of sharp trauma—if the eyelid tissue becomes cut or torn, it could also affect the structures that drain tears from the eye. A cut or torn eyelid or draining structure may require repair in the operating room using microsurgical techniques. Any injury to the eyelid can also be associated with injury to the eyeball, so a complete examination of the eye must be performed to make sure there’s no injury deeper than the surface of the eye.
Fractures of the bones around the eye usually occur from blunt trauma, such as from a sports injury or a fall. Fractures are often detected by x-rays or a CT scan. These injuries may require prompt surgical treatment to prevent long-term complications such as double vision, loss of vision, and abnormal appearance.
Sounds scary! What can I do to prevent these kinds of injuries?
Make sure your child protects her eyes during recreational activities. Racquetball, squash, tennis, soccer, golf, baseball, basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, and paint ball are the most common culprit sports for eye trauma.
Protective glasses or face shields are available for most sports. The best protective eyewear is a sports frame with polycarbonate lenses. If a child has a need for better vision with glasses, this prescription can be placed in the sports glasses. Although many athletes wear contact lenses, they do not provide adequate protection against injury.
What should I do if my child has an eye injury?
If there is a chemical injury, immediate irrigation with water is critical. Flush the eyes and face with any available source of water for at least 10-15 minutes. Follow up immediately with a trip to the emergency room or ophthalmologist.
If a sharp object has penetrated the eye, do not pull it out, but transport the person to the emergency room as soon as possible.
Other blunt or sharp injuries should be examined by an ophthalmologist, since the serious nature of the injury may not be readily apparent.
Mark Steele, MD, is Chief of Pediatric Ophthalmology and a clinical associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at NYU Langone Medical Center.