Preventing Eye Injuries: Safety Tips for Work, Sports, and Daily Life

Eye injuries are the second most common cause of vision loss after cataracts. The majority of eye injuries occur because of foreign bodies, open wounds, contusions, or burns. The best means of avoiding devastating eye injuries is prevention. Taking simple precautions like wearing protective eyewear can stop life-changing events before they happen at home, work, from accidents, or while participating in sports. This article discusses the best ways to prevent eye injuries.

Key takeaways:

Causes of eye injuries

Eye injuries are usually caused by foreign objects getting into the eye, contusions, and burns. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the injury.

Blunt eye trauma

There are seven bones that surround our eyes, providing vital support and protection. The inferior and medial bones are weaker than the superior and lateral bones. That means if you are looking at someone’s face, the weaker bones of the person’s right eye are at 3 and 6 o'clock.

Blunt trauma to the eye will cause the weaker bones to break first. The bone structure allows for inherent safety since the trauma will cause something called a blowout fracture which protects the eye itself from worse injury. Think of it as the weaker bones breaking almost like a shock absorber for the eye.

Blunt trauma can cause bleeding on the sclera or white surface of our eyes. Corneal abrasions can result from direct scratching or scraping of the surface of the eye. Sometimes, foreign bodies can lodge in or around the eye such as a metallic or plastic object.

Serious trauma to the anterior chamber or front part of the eye from a blunt object such as a baseball, racket ball, or being punched in the eye, can cause bleeding in the eye. This bleeding is called a hyphema in serious cases, and it can lead to visual impairment without proper treatment.

A black eye is a result of bleeding around the eye and eyelids. It may or may not be associated with more serious trauma to the eye itself.

Chemical exposure and burns

Irritants to the eyes can be present in many forms, including liquids, solids, and gases.

  • Aerosols. Aerosols can be painful and cause immediate burning, such as hairspray or perfumes.
  • Acids. Acids such as sulfuric acid from car batteries or lye from drain cleaners can splash up in the eyes.
  • Chemicals. Chemicals like soaps, lotions, or sunscreens can cause eye irritation and burning. Some of us will mistakenly rub our eyes inadvertently when our hands are contaminated with chemicals.
  • Keratitis. A flash burn to the eye is called ultraviolet keratitis. Most commonly, this is a result of excessive exposure to sunlight and the cornea becomes sunburned. This may occur in places where there is intense sunlight reflection from snow or ice, particularly in high altitudes. Other examples include using welding arc tools without eye protection.

What to do if you suffer an eye injury

Remember most eye injuries, even the incredibly painful ones, are self-limited and require minimal treatment. It is important to immediately protect the damaged eye, and avoid further trauma by rubbing.

  • Flushing. Chemical exposures require flushing the eye with large amounts of water or saline. Regular tap water will suffice in many cases. Using the eye flush will soothe the eye, decrease the pain, and dilute the offending agent. Most healthcare providers recommend flushing for twenty minutes or more in severe cases.
  • Inspection. It is important to inspect the eye that has been injured. If there appears to be blood in the eye, the eyelids are lacerated, or there is a deformity of the bones around the eye, it is important to seek medical attention right away. It is a good idea to avoid using aspirin because it may worsen the risks of bleeding.
It is important, only try to dislodge any foreign body by flushing with water or saline. Never try to rub or wipe the eye to remove the foreign body since it may become lodged in the eye. This includes avoiding the use of Q-tips, tweezers, or anything else. The result could be a corneal abrasion — or worse, a rupture of the globe of the eye which can worsen the injury and lead to potential vision loss.

Tips to prevent eye injuries

Even the simplest tasks such as nailing a board or using a power washer can expose us to eye injuries. Above all, don’t rub your eyes even if something minor happens.

The best prevention is eye protection. In most cases, this involves the use of safety glasses. Many prescription glasses can substitute for minor work eye protection. However, wearing protective goggles or face masks is suggested if the work involves mixing or spraying chemicals, using a hammer or power tools, or an arc welder.

  1. Wear eye goggles. Playing sports such as racket ball or squash is known to be risky for eye injuries. It is vital to wear eye goggles at all times, even during practice sessions.
  2. Use protective eyewear. Riding a bicycle or motorcycle can expose you to harsh sunlight, wind, and debris. Sunglasses or protective eyewear is recommended.
  3. Avoid bright lights. Avoid looking at bright lights or directly into the sun, especially during an eclipse. Wearing good quality, polarized sunglasses is always a good idea during significant reflective glare such as reading at the beach or while skiing.
  4. Wear sunglasses. There are two types of ultraviolet rays: UV-A and UV-B. UV-A can hurt your central vision or the retina. UV-B can affect the cornea and the lens. As it turns out, UV-B exposure can cause longer-term damage and sunglasses can provide good protection.
  5. Wide brimmed hats. Aside from wearing sunglasses, wearing a hat with a brim can help too. Avoiding long hours in the sun is recommended so that sunlight exposure is limited.

Anyone who has had cataract surgery or other eye surgery or is taking medications such as birth control pills, diuretics, tetracycline, or sulfa antibiotics may have increased light sensitivity.

Things to consider

Your vision is a vital part of your health and well-being. The structure of your eye protects you from many common injuries, but injuries can still happen.

Surprisingly, people are less likely to wear protective eyewear while working or playing at home rather than work. As a result, over half of eye injuries happen at home doing home repairs, yard work, cleaning, cooking, or playing sports.

Men are more likely to suffer an eye injury than women. And, don't forget sunlight can be just as damaging as blunt or chemical trauma, so wearing sunglasses can be especially protective.

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