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Keeping Kids Safe from Eye Injuries

eye injuries

Eye injuries are one of the leading causes of vision loss in children and teenagers. Injuries are most likely to happen at home or in familiar spots, to happen by accident, and are nearly always preventable! Most of us think that eye injuries happen during sports or rough play—and they certainly do—but keeping your child’s eyes safe should always be on your mind.

What can be injured and how?

Any of the tissues around the eye can be damaged by injuries. This includes fractures of the bones of the orbit, scratches (abrasions) and cuts (lacerations) to the eyelids or eyeball, burns from heat or chemicals, blunt trauma causing internal swelling, bleeding or inflammation, or penetrating trauma into the eyeball itself.

Prevention. Prevention. Prevention.

Your child’s eyes will be safest if you avoid dangerous activities. I know many people get squeamish when thinking about eyes and eye injuries so I won’t go into much detail, but you can use your imagination that care should be taken with sharp objects, projectiles like sports balls, or explosives like fireworks. Unfortunately, there has been a steady rise in serious eye injuries from paintball guns, airguns, BB guns, and other firearms, even with recommended safety goggles. From an eye safety perspective these activities should simply be avoided.

What about sports?

We all know eye injuries happen during sports, especially ball sports. Many leagues have taken great measures to make eye safety equipment standard. If that is an option for your children, insist that they wear it. Often injuries will happen during informal games like pick-up basketball, soccer, or badminton. So get your child a pair of sports goggles. These are usually cheap, durable, and provide excellent protection. Most sporting goods stores will sell models with good fits and styles. The same thing goes for using safety goggles for woodworking or grinding metals where small pieces can fly into the air.

What if my child already has glasses?

With the right pair of glasses your child will be seeing well and will be better protected. Just make sure they have the right:

  • Fit- The lenses should fully cover the eyes, the nosepiece should rest comfortably on the bridge of the nose, and the ear pieces snuggly around the ear. Try using a strap around the head to keep them on while doing activities.
  • Lenses- All kids should get impact resistant lenses made out of a material like polycarbonate plastic. Remind your eye doctor to write that on the glasses prescription.
  • Style- If your child does not like the glasses he or she will never wear them!

Prescriptions can also be placed into sports and safety goggles for extra protection.

Accidents happen…

If you suspect an eye injury, try the following:

  • First, if you think the injury opened the eyeball or if you see something sticking into the eye, do not touch it or try to remove any objects. If you can find something that can be used as a protective shield (a paper cup works well) tape it over the eye. Go immediately to an emergency department.
  • If you think an object or chemical got stuck around the eye or under the eyelids, try to irrigate or wash it out with clean water for 10-15 seconds and then seek medical help.
  • If after an injury your child is complaining about eye pain, a change in vision, light sensitivity, or is unable to open the eye, take him or her to an emergency department or local ophthalmologist for a complete eye exam.

Your sight is one of your most valuable senses, protect it! NYU Langone Health has ophthalmologists trained in eye trauma at our offices and every emergency department to help when you need it.

Zachary Elkin, MD, is a pediatric ophthalmologist and assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at NYU Langone Health. He sees patients at the NYU Langone Eye Center in Manhattan.