Eye Injuries

Physical damage to the structures of the eye

  • Certain occupations or sports are risk factors
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

The eyelid-closing reflex and the bony socket around the eye help to protect the eye from injuries. However, eye injuries are still common, and in some cases blindness may result if treatment is not given promptly.

The most common injury to the eye is a scratch on the transparent cornea caused by a foreign body in the eye (see Corneal abrasion). Minor injuries of this type rarely damage vision permanently unless an infection develops and remains untreated. However, penetrating injuries in which the eye is pierced by a tiny, fast-moving object, such as a metal chip from machinery, can lead to total loss of sight. Blunt injuries, such as those caused by a blow from a fist or ball, may also endanger vision. Injuries can also occur when using caustic chemicals or while looking directly at the sun.

Most eye injuries can be prevented by the use of protective eyewear when working with dangerous machines or chemicals or when participating in athletic activities. Never look directly at the sun, even while wearing sunglasses.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of eye injuries differ according to the type and severity of damage, but symptoms may include:

  • Pain and watering of the eye.

  • Inability to open the eye.

  • Bleeding under the front surface of the eye (see Subconjunctival haemorrhage).

  • Bruising and swelling of the skin around the eye.

  • Reduced vision in the affected eye.

You should always seek prompt medical attention for any eye injury because all eye injuries are potentially serious. If the injury was caused by a blow to the eye, involves a penetrating foreign body, or results in reduced vision, hold a clean, dry cloth over the injured eye, making sure you do not touch or press on it. Go to the nearest accident and emergency department immediately.

What might be done?

Your doctor will probably assess the eye by ophthalmoscopy and a slit-lamp examination. Ultrasound scanning may also be used to look for a foreign body in the eye and assess the extent of the damage.

Most eye injuries can be treated under a local anaesthetic, although some will require surgery under a general anaesthetic. Chemical injuries may be treated with corticosteroids (see Drugs acting on the eye).

Most eye injuries heal completely with prompt treatment. Sometimes corneal injuries leave a scar, and, if the lens is damaged, part of it may become cloudy (see Cataract). Sunlight may cause permanent damage to the retina. Separation of the retina from its underlying layer (see Retinal detachment) may be due to a heavy blow and requires urgent treatment to prevent loss of sight. A serious eye injury can cause permanent blindness.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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