Injury to the Eye

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The outcomes of ocular (eye) trauma depend on how the eye is injured and can range from recovery to irreversible blindness and loss of the eye.

The eye can be injured when an object or substance, like a chemical, makes contact with the eye. Eye injury can lead to blurry vision, complete loss of vision, pain, and physical disfigurement.

Blunt eye injury occurs when a dull object hits the eye. Lacerating eye injury occurs when a sharp object hits the eye. Blunt eye injury is more common and can result from falls and motor vehicle collisions, including airbag deployment. Lacerating eye injury can be caused by sharp objects like scissors or a variety of workplace-related injuries, such as in construction or manufacturing. Physical assault is a common cause of both blunt and lacerating injury.

Different parts of the eye may be damaged depending on the type of injury. Eye trauma can lead to a corneal abrasion, which is when the surface layers of the cornea (the clear part of the eye that lets light in) are rubbed off. This can be associated with severe pain and tearing but almost always recovers completely within a few days. Eye injury can also be associated with bleeding. A subconjunctival hemorrhage is when bleeding occurs between the sclera (the white part of the eye) and the overlying clear tissue (conjunctiva). Bleeding in this location appears as a dense red patch on the sclera. Although the appearance can be anxiety provoking, subconjunctival hemorrhages are generally not harmful and resolve within a few days to weeks. A hyphema is when blood accumulates between the iris (the colored part of the eye) and the cornea. This can be associated with blurry vision and elevated eye pressure. A vitreous hemorrhage refers to bleeding between the iris and the retina (the light-sensing lining in the back of the eye). A vitreous hemorrhage can cause what are called “floaters” (floating spots or lines in the patient’s vision) and, at times, severe vision loss. More important, vitreous hemorrhage can be associated with retinal tears or retinal detachment (when the retina becomes separated from the back wall of the eye), which can lead to blindness if not repaired with either laser therapy or surgery in a timely fashion.

Seeking Medical Care
Any time an injury to the eye causes blurred vision, double vision, pain, or light sensitivity, a medical evaluation is necessary. In severe forms of trauma and when chemical injury is known or suspected, medical care should be sought immediately.

Preventing Ocular Injuries
Protective eyewear is always recommended when playing sports or engaging in activities (workplace or home projects) in which objects or chemicals may unintentionally hit or fly into the eye. Depending on the activity, goggles may be the best way to maximize protection.

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