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Preventing and Understanding Eye Injuries
Written By : Bruce Kaler, MD 
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Eye injuries in the workplace are very common in almost all industries. Construction, welding, manufacturing, landscaping, auto repair, all exposes the eye to possible chemicals, dust or foreign bodies. Irritating or caustic liquids potentially splash an eye whether you work in manufacturing, laboratory, health care, restaurant, or construction trades. Even a seemingly benign office environment can put eyes at risk. Solid foreign bodies that are airborne like a missile can happen in just as many and diverse surroundings. Short-term exposure to intense sunlight, heat, or ultraviolet light can also be problematic. Inappropriate initial first aid or lack of treatment can often compound these problems with infection when people delay seeking professional medical attention promptly.

All eye injuries should be considered serious even when they seem benign. Serious injury to the eye can be subtle and compounded by delay in treatment. Any involvement of the eye should have urgent exam and treatment. One of the more common injuries is a corneal abrasion. The cornea is the clear dome capping the front central portion of the eye. A foreign body such as dirt, metal, wood, sawdust, a fingernail or a contact lens, can scrape it. Even rubbing the eye after the injury can cause further damage. Early exam within two hours of the injury and initiating treatment is critical to avoiding permanent damage and limiting the episode to a short-term inconvenience. Chemical splash to the eye is even more urgent. Immediate flushing of the eye with copious amounts of water is the preferred treatment. Do not attempt to use any neutralizing agents or antidote. Simple dilution of the insulting agent by several minutes of irrigation with water will limit the exposure to the chemical and minimize the damage. The amount of irritation is instantaneous so initial first aid by irrigation is very important. Proper medical exam should follow the initial irrigation in a timely manner. If the injury involves a cut to the eye, do not flush the eye. Gently cover the eye and seek medical attention. Evaluation of the severity of the condition and treatment to avoid complications are important. Blunt trauma directly to eye or face may cause visible injuries such as swelling or bruising. Only a proper exam by a medical professional can rule out internal damage to the eyeball. Simple inspection of the eye cannot determine the severity of damage. All eye injuries are important and deserve thorough evaluation.

A medical professional will be able to determine the extent of injury by using some common techniques and instruments that provide a magnified view of the surface and internal structures of the eye. Numbing eye drops or dye are used that illuminate abrasions and foreign bodies that can be difficult to see with only the naked eye. Determining the extent and exact nature of injury to the eye is important in order to start the best treatment promptly.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than one million people suffer eye injuries each year in the United States. Appropriate protective eyewear could prevent ninety percent of these injuries. Whether you are working at home or on the job, garden or a factory, workshop or around the car, sports or recreation, protective eyewear is critically important and often neglected. Choose protective eyewear with "ANSI Z87.1" marked on the lens or frame. This means the glasses, goggles, or face shield meets the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1 safety standard. This helps provide protection against impact and chemical splashes. Thoughtful use of all products and tools is also important step in prevention. Read the labels carefully and follow directions for use of tools. Do not operate any machinery without proper orientation and training even if you think you know what to do. Sun and excessive heat protection for the eye are also important. Daily exposure to excessive bright sunlight leads to increased risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. The ultraviolet light contributes to these and other problems over time and is a major contributor to age related eye problems, which are preventable. The ultraviolet light protection by sunglasses has nothing to do with price or the color of the lens. Do not be fooled by the dark shade of the lens or price tag when choosing sunglasses.

The leading causes of eye injuries and blindness are preventable. Get a regular eye exam. Be aware of your blood pressure, blood sugar or any family history of eye problems such as glaucoma. These are all non-traumatic issues that are manageable. Don't smoke! Always wear approved protective eyewear when engaged in activities that risk eye trauma. Always protect your eyes in the sun by using sunglasses that have 100% protection against UVA and UVB. Use artificial tears as necessary to prevent dry eyes and wash your hands before touching or rubbing your eyes.

Protect your eyes. They are the only pair you have.

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