By Dr. Moran Roni Levin
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to run with scissors?”
While this may sound old-fashioned, as a pediatric ophthalmologist (eye physician and surgeon), I have unfortunately seen far too many eye injuries caused by everyday items or innocent play. I have seen serious and vision – threatening eye injuries not only from expected objects such as knives, pencils, and BB guns, but also from more unusual causes including tree ornaments, plastic dolls, and even a crab claw!
While I love helping to improve and preserve vision in my young patients, one the most disappointing challenges that I face is treating vision loss caused by preventable eye injuries. As a mother, my heart skips a beat when my daughter plays with rocks and sticks or runs around with certain objects. I immediately think of how I can protect and preserve her eyesight.
Eye trauma is the most common cause of preventable blindness in the United States. Children make up one-third of patients with serious eye injuries and this often occurs during innocent play. A research study I conducted of children who underwent surgery for eye trauma found that the four most common causes of eye injuries were BB guns, pencils, knives, and blunt trauma from a fist or object such as rock. Trauma to the eye can lead to devastating consequences. Not only can eye injury cause pain and loss of vision, but it can lead to lazy eye, with subsequent misalignment (strabismus), eyes not working together (loss of stereopsis), and even blindness, or loss of the eye.
The best way to prevent eye injuries is to be cautious and aware of potential hazards. As a physician and a mom, I would like to share these tips on how to help prevent eye injuries in children:
Top 10 Tips for Eye Safety:
- Be aware of fly balls when attending a baseball game. Fly balls can not only cause injury to the eye, but also broken orbital bones.
- If your child has reduced vision in one eye for any reason including amblyopia (lazy eye), polycarbonate or protective glasses should always be worn. Children with vision loss in one eye often have reduced depth perception causing them to be at increased risk of falls or injury to the better eye.
- Always wear protective eyewear (rec specs or sports goggles) when playing sports such as baseball, lacrosse, hockey, basketball, football, racquetball, or paintball.
- Be especially cautious when using sharp objects including pencils, darts, and scissors. Pencil injury was the number two cause of eye injuries requiring surgery in my study.
- Do not let your child play with pellet guns or BB guns. These types of guns can cause devastating eye injuries including complete loss of vision or even loss of the eye.
- Avoid fireworks and bottle rockets. These can be extremely dangerous.
- Do not allow your child to play with laser pointers. There are numerous reports of permanent damage to the retina caused by shining laser pointers directly into the eyes.
- Safety glasses should be worn when working with dust or tools. Dust can cause eye irritation and pain, and small objects such as metal or wood particles can get lodged in the cornea and cause potentially sight-threatening scarring.
- Use caution when cooking and keep children away from cooking areas. Hot oil or grease from a stovetop can splash onto a child’s face cause eye injuries.
- Keep bleach or household cleaners away from children’s reach. The most damaging solutions to the eyes included bases such as bleach and laundry detergents. In the event of an accidental chemical splash, immediately rinse the eyes and face for at least 10 minutes using either a sodium chloride solution (such as contact solution) or freshwater. After irrigating well, take your child to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center to check the pH of the ocular surface.
Eye injuries in children can be avoided if you use caution and are aware of potential risks. If an eye injury does occur, please immediately seek care from a pediatric ophthalmologist or go to the nearest emergency department with an on-call eye physician.
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Dr. Roni Levin is a pediatric ophthalmologist in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and has a particular interest in patient and medical student education.