For every child, summer is the time for playing with friends, spending time outdoors and exploring the world outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, it is also the season children and adults are most likely to suffer injuries to the eyes from trauma and accidents. Each year, 2.5 million people suffer from eye injuries with 1400 of those being caused by fireworks. These injuries can result in permanent loss of vision, even blindness, and many of these injuries can be prevented and their severity minimized by prompt evaluation and medical treatment. July is National Eye Safety month, and as medical practioners who care for children with eye and vision problems, the Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS) want all parents to know how to prevent eye injuries and what to do if a child sustains an eye injury.
Prevention is the most important step. Children should never have access to fireworks, whether they are approved “safe and sane” and especially if they are illegal. If you are celebrating July 4th , let the professionals handle the fireworks, but if you do use approved and legal fireworks at home, show your children you care for their safety by wearing protective eyewear yourself and making certain spectators are well away from the display.
A second way to prevent eye injuries is by using protective eyewear when playing sports or doing projects around the house. Children playing hockey, racquetball and even baseball, should be provided with helmets, facemasks or protective eyewear. Adults and children should always wear protective eyewear when operating power tools, lawn equipment and when working with machinery. Children who see adults taking precautions will grow up being more careful themselves.
If a child or an adult sustains an injury to the eye:
- Step one: if a chemical is accidently splashed into the eye, rinse the eye thoroughly with water, then immediately call your child’s doctor, poison control center or emergency department for advice. They will likely advise you to seek care at an emergency department or with an ophthalmologist: a medical doctor who specializes in treatment of eye and vision problems. Bring the chemical with you as this will help determine the correct treatment.
- Step two: If a child receives blunt trauma (ball, fist or fall) or sharp trauma (stick or projectile) seek medical care immediately. The physician will check the vision, examine the surface of the eye with special magnifying instruments and may obtain x-rays or MRI to evaluate for fractures in the bones surrounding the eye. Examination by or referral to an ophthalmologist may be necessary, as they will be able to perform more thorough examination and perform surgery if needed.
- Step Three: Keep your follow-up appointments with your ophthalmologist. Children who sustain injuries to the eyes are at increased risk for long term problems which can lead to vision impairment long after the initial injury. For example, treatable conditions such as glaucoma (high eye pressure) and retinal detachments can be prevented and treated with appropriate long term care.
AAPOS is the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. The organization's goals are to advance the quality of children's eye care, support the training of pediatric ophthalmologists, support research activities in pediatric ophthalmology, and advance the care of adults with strabismus. Further information regarding vision screening and many other topics on childhood eye problems can be found at www.aapos.org.