An estimated 1.1 to 2.4 million eye injuries occur each year, and about 42,000 of these injuries require hospitalization.There are many different causes of accidents that hurt the eye.This publication will describe the more common causes.

Anyone can have an eye injury.The workplace accounts for 1,000 eye injuries daily, but more injuries to the eye result from use or misuse of a product for the household, garden or home workshop.

It seems that there is a feeling of safety in one's home.Yet nearly 60 percent of all product-related eye injuries occur in and around the home, according to the National Society to Prevent Blindness.

Any injury to the eye has the potential for visual loss or blindness if it is severe, left untreated or treated improperly. Fortunately, 90 percent of all eye injuries can be prevented. Prevention is a matter of learning the common causes of injury and how to protect your eyes -- at home, at work and at play.

  • Did you check that the spray nozzle on a can of oven cleaner was pointed away from you?

  • Has sawdust ever come near to spraying into your eyes when you were working with a power saw?

  • Accidents can and do happen, yet prevention is easy.

  • At Home

  • A 38-year-old woman while using bleach in her home suffered an extensive chemical splash to one eye. Her eye was badly damaged and had to be surgically removed.

  • A 50-year-old man was mowing his lawn when a rock flew into his eye, causing severed damage and loss of vision.

  • A five-year-old girl poked her eye with scissors and suffered bleeding in the eye that required emergency treatment and weeks of follow-up care.

One of the best ways to prevent household product-related eye injuries is by reading and following the manufacturer's instructions and safety warnings. Also, use common sense in protecting the eye:

When opening a champagne bottle, wrap the cork in a towel and grip it tightly. As you remove the cork, point it away from yourself and others. Do not shake the bottle

Pick up rocks and debris before mowing the lawn

Take extra precautions when children are in the house. Don't give babies and small children glass bottles or drinking cups. Keep sharp objects away from children

Don't peer into a superhot bag of popcorn just removed from the microwave oven. The steam can scorch the cornea (the surface of the eye)

An important way to prevent eye injury is by wearing safety glasses made of hard plastic. Safety eyewear is sold at many home building stores and hardware stores as well as optical centers.

  • Wear eye protection when you--

  • Clean the oven or use other strong chemicals

  • Chop wood

  • Work with motorized equipment

  • Jump-start a car. An exploding battery can spray acid into the eyes

  • At Work

A 40-year-old man was working in an auto shop and battery acid sprayed into his face, which was unprotected. Both eyes suffered chemical burns.

A 35-year-old man was cutting wood at a job site when he hit a nail and it entered the eye. It took three major eye operations at the UIC Eye Center to restore his vision.

A 42-year-old man was mixing cement at work and splashed some of the mixture into his eyes, causing chemical burns. Thanks to proper first aid at the job site and emergency treatment at the UIC Eye Center, the severity of his corneal burns was minimized and his vision was unaffected.

Occupational accidents account for a variety of injuries treated at the UIC Eye Center. These injuries include chemical burns, foreign objects in the eye and scrapes of the cornea. Common causes of such injuries include splashes with chemicals, grease and oil; burns from steam; radiation exposure and flying metal chips. In rural areas, chemical burns and foreign objects in the eye are common ocular injuries in farmers.

Each year almost 100,000 Americans lose sight in one or both of their eyes from accidents at work. Nationwide, work-related eye injuries cost over $133 million a year in lost production, medical expenses and workers' compensation, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has had a major impact on safety in industry. This organization conducts inspections to determine injury rates in the workplace and ensure that safety standards are met. OSHA requirements include proper eye protection: approved industrial safety glasses made of plastic or shatterproof glass.

Unfortunately, despite efforts at prevention, there is still a high incidence of on-the-job eye trauma. Companies can prevent many injuries by starting or improving training programs in eye safety and first aid.

At Play

A 32-year-old man was playing ball when a friend accidentally poked him in the eye. The man suffered a hyphema (bleeding in the front of the eye between the clear cornea and colored iris). He received emergency treatment and follow-up care at the UIC Eye Center and his vision returned to normal. He is now at higher risk for visual loss in the event of another injury to that eye.

  • A 19-year-old man was elbowed in the eye during a basketball game and suffered damage to his optic nerve ("the nerve of sight"). He permanently lost vision in that eye.

  • A 7-year-old child's eye was badly cut while he was playing with fireworks in the backyard. He required surgery and follow-up care at the UIC Eye Center.

Sports and recreational activities cause more than 31,000 eye injuries each year (see September/October 1990 "Eye Facts" on "Sports Eye Injuries"). Nearly one third of these injuries occur in children aged 5 to 14 years, often in accidents involving play.

Many eye injuries to children occur during rough play, such as wrestling or throwing things at each other.

  • Toys that can hurt the eyes include:

  • Missile-type toys

  • Toys with hard edges or detachable parts

  • Slingshots, BB guns and other toy guns

  • Fireworks

In addition, people involved in recreational activities outside should know that
the sun's ultraviolet rays can burn the cornea. A sunlamp also has intense ultraviolet rays, which can burn unprotected eyes.


Most sports-related injuries are preventable with the proper headgear and protective eyewear. Regular eyeglasses and contact lenses do not offer adequate protection from sports injuries. Special eye guards are needed for racket sports and basketball. Football, hockey and baseball players require even stronger headgear to protect the head and face. Headgear and eye guards designed for sports are sold in many sporting goods stores.

Many professional athletes now use eye guards for sports. Basketball players Horace Grant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are among the best known athletes who have worn eye protection. Eye protection is not widely used for boxing; some boxers have ended their athletic careers after suffering blinding injuries in the ring.

There are other ways to help protect children from injury during play:

Be sure toys are safe and appropriate for children's ability and their age

Don't let kids play with fireworks

While involved in outdoor activities, protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet light by wearing UV-blocking sunglasses.

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