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Protecting our eyes, at home and on the court

Last Modified: October 17, 2016

Safety & Prevention

Protecting our eyes, at home and on the court

The gift of sight is a humbling invitation to view all the magnificent sunrises, awe-inspiring events and beautiful loved ones a lifetime can hold. It is a privilege to have such a rewarding sense. But each day, an estimated 2,000 people experience an eye injury on worksites alone. October is Eye Injury Prevention Month and, even if you aren’t particularly active or work in a profession that puts you at a higher risk, it’s important to consider precautions you can take to keep your sight as clear as it can be, every day.

Around the house.
Thomas Gutwein, MD, warns of everyday dangers and how to stay safe.

Eye injuries can be devastating, as loss of vision from trauma is many times a permanent loss. Prevention is the key.

The most common eye injury we see in the emergency department is foreign objects in the eye. This frequently happens to people when they’re working outside, in the garage, or doing some type of home improvement project. Flying nails, sawdust, rocks, grass, rust, grinding metal flakes, and rocks can all end up hitting an unprotected eye.

If the lid isn’t closed in time and the flying object hits the cornea (the clear outside covering that protects the colored/dark part of the eye), it can result in a scratch. Or the object may be stuck or “embedded” in the eye. If the object goes all the way through the tissue inside the eye and strikes the back of the eyeball, you could lose your vision. The back part of the eye is critical for sensing light and pictures and sending them to your brain. Unfortunately, that area does not have the ability to heal itself.

Remember: Prevention of eye injuries is always your responsibility. You should always wear appropriate eye protection. Full face shields or certified goggles for welding, clear goggles for working around areas with lots of flying dust, fine pieces of metal, or any other flying objects, sunglasses for sun exposure, and clear glasses when in the vicinity of potentially small flying objects.  

When you think something has gotten into your eye, if it is a chemical or substance, you need to flush the eye for 10 minutes using a steady stream of clean water.  That usually requires a faucet or hose.  The earlier you do this the better, and this action alone can save your vision in some instances. 

If you feel or see a small piece of dust, eyelash, etc. on the edge of your eyelid, it is safe to use a cotton tip applicator to try to remove it.  However, if it is in the central region of your eye and you cannot flush it out with clean water, then you should leave it alone until you can see your eye doctor or go to the emergency room.  This should be within 12 hours of the object getting in the eye, and certainly the sooner the better. 

Anytime you have a loss of vision, partial or complete, severe pain in the eye, or swelling/drainage around the eye, immediately visit the emergency department or your eye doctor. 

In the game.
Candice Dunkin, MS, LAT, ATC, manager athletic training, Parkview Sports Medicine, suggests these common practices for eye protection in the sports arena.

“Don’t run with sticks!” We’ve all heard this but why is it so important? Eye injuries are more common than some people think, particularly in sports where other individuals are involved or there are moving objects (other players, hockey pucks, tennis balls). Did you know that a hockey puck can travel up to 100 mph?

It is important for parents and coaches to encourage the use of protective eyewear.  Typical eye injuries occur from a finger or elbow from a teammate or opponent coming into contact with another player’s eye.  Injuries can range from things as minor as a scratch to more significant injuries such as facial fractures. Basketball has the highest risk of eye injuries in children, and injuries to the eye are the leading cause of blindness in children in the United States.

Protective eyewear can differ depending on the sport, but may include safety glasses or goggles, or sport-specific eye guards (like face shields in hockey). Sunglasses, contact lenses and prescription glasses are not considered protective eyewear and should not take the place of eye protection. You should always consult your eye doctor before using protective eyewear to ensure proper fit and comfort.

Parents and coaches play an important role in making sure young athletes protect their eyes and properly gear up for the game. Consider these items part of the uniform. Just as parents would expect their child to wear their helmet when riding their bicycle or hitting the football field, protective eyewear should be worn during any sporting activity.

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