Here at Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, we work hard to keep our patients educated about all the potentially damaging things that can affect their eyesight, and many people don’t realize that the spring and summer months can be particularly dangerous. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) reports that the occurrence of eye injuries increases as the weather gets warmer, reaching a peak in the month of July and then slowly declining in the fall. Eye injuries generally fall into three groups, based on how they are caused: chemical exposure, blunt force trauma, and foreign particles in the eye. Here is what you should do any of these circumstances occur.
Chemical eye burns represent approximately 7% to 10% of all eye injuries. Most frequently, they occur on work sites where industrial chemicals are in use, but can also be caused by a variety of household products, such as fertilizers, cleaning products, or even vinegar. Damage is usually limited to the front segment of the eye, but severe burns that penetrate deeper than the cornea may also cause serious eye problems, like cataracts and glaucoma. If your eyes are exposed to a caustic chemical:
- Avoid rubbing your eyes, as this may exacerbate the damage.
- Immediately flush the eye(s) with lots of water. Diluting the substance and washing away any particles that may have been in the chemical are extremely important.
- Continue flushing the eye for at least ten minutes and even though it may be uncomfortable, open your eyelids as wide as possible as you rinse them out.
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible, either while you are rinsing your eyes or after you have been doing so for fifteen to twenty minutes.
- Do not bandage the eye.
For Blunt Force Trauma to the Eyes:
According to the National Eye Institute, a division of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), eye injuries caused by blunt force trauma, which most commonly result from sports-related accidents, are the leading cause of blindness in children in the United States and account for more than 100,000 physician visits every year. In the most serious cases, these injuries can cause a detached retina, which can potentially result in permanent vision loss. Studies have found that more than 90% of these eye injuries could be prevented simply through the use of protective eyewear, but if your eye is struck forcibly by a blunt object:
- Apply a cold compress to control the swelling, but do not apply pressure or rub the eye
- To alleviate pain, take over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
- If there is any unusual bruising, bleeding, or change in your vision, or if it hurts when your eye moves, see a doctor right away.
For Foreign Particles in the Eye:
Particles of dust, sand, wood, or plastic can often get blown into the eye during various work and leisure activities. Although the eye naturally produces tears to wash foreign material out, this debris may cause a small scratch on the cornea. Such a scratch, if it becomes infected, may evolve into a corneal ulcer, an open sore on the eye that produces redness, blurred vision, light sensitivity, and intense pain. Prevent Blindness®, the nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight, recommends that if you have a foreign object stuck in your eye you should:
- Avoid rubbing the eyes, as this can push the foreign material deeper into the eye and potentially scratch the cornea.
- Pull the upper eyelid down over the lower eyelid and/or blink repeatedly to stimulate additional tear production.
- If the particle is still there, rinse the eye thoroughly with a sterile eyewash.
- If a larger bit of debris has penetrated the cornea, do NOT attempt to wash the eye or remove anything stuck in it. Instead, cover the eye loosely to prevent further injury and seek immediate medical attention.
Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency can go a long way towards keeping your eyes safe and healthy, but a regularly scheduled comprehensive medical eye exam is still the best way to catch eye problems early and prevent long term eye damage. If you have any concerns about your vision, or any questions about how to best maintain the health of your eyes, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to schedule an eye exam with Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear and healthy.