More than 19,000 emergency room visits per year in the US are due to eye injuries in children.
The most common causes of eye injuries among children are related to recreation. Basketball and baseball/softball are the two most common causes of sports related eye injuries in children.
Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is another significant cause of eye injury in children. Damage from UV light usually occurs over time with long-term exposure. Eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and even some forms of cancer are associated with UV light exposure. The sun can also cause photokeratitis, or sunburn of the eye, which can occur over a short time even in the winter due to reflections off of the snow.
Other activities, such as working with power tools, riding motorized vehicles, and firearms (including airsoft, paintball, and BB guns) are also associated with eye injuries in children.
How to prevent eye injuries
Up to 90% of eye injuries can be prevented with proper eye protection. Here are a few tips to reduce the risk;
- Be sure to use sunglasses with UV protection. Look for a label that says the sunglasses block 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays. This is the best way to prevent sun-related eye damage. And of course, never look directly at the sun, even with sunglasses!
- Use appropriate eye protection while playing sports, using power tools, and around any firearms. Look on the label for approval from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) when buying protective glasses.
- Keep vehicles tidy. In the event of an accident, any loose object can become a projectile and cause eye injury.
- Take breaks from screen time. Too much screen time without breaks may contribute to near-sightedness. One simple way to prevent eyestrain is to use the “20-20-20” rule: for every 20 minutes of screen time, look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds to allow your eyes to rest before going back to the screen.
- First aid- Eye injuries can be very serious; even minor injuries should be evaluated as soon as possible by a qualified health care professional. If an object becomes lodged in the eye, DO NOT attempt to remove it. In the event of a chemical exposure, flush the affected eye with clean water for at least 15 minutes. Call 911 or see a doctor immediately.
- Eye injuries are a common but almost always preventable cause of emergency room visits. Wear eye protection in sports, use sunglasses with UV protection, and take frequent breaks from screens to keep your eyes happy and healthy!
Alexander Power, MD, is a family medicine resident at the University of Vermont Medical Center.