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Healthy Vision With Dr. Val
Healthy Vision With Dr. Val

Dr. Jones has found that there is a surprising lack of medical blogging about one particular body part: the eyes. Our eyes are incredibly important to our quality of life, and yet most of us mistakenly believe that if we see well, we can safely ignore those little globes.

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When Does An Eye Injury Require Medical Attention?

Pittsburgh pitcher A.J. Burnett Pittsburgh pitcher A.J. BurnettPittsburgh Pirate pitcher, A.J. Burnett, recently suffered an orbital fracture after being hit in the temple during a bunting drill. Although Burnett was wearing a batting helmet, it did not protect him from the ball as it glanced off his bat and into his face. The event was caught on video here. Burnett’s unfortunate foul tip injury serves as a good reminder that eyes are particularly vulnerable body parts. In fact, more than 600,000 sports-related eye injuries occur each year, and more than 40,000 of these injuries are of a severity that requires Emergency Room attention. More than one-third of the victims are children.

So how do you know if an eye injury requires medical attention? I interviewed Dr. Derrick Cunningham, a council member for the American Optometric Association Sports Vision Section, about eye injuries, and the podcast of our conversation is available here:

You can also listen to it by clicking the play button in the player below:

Listen to internet radio with HEALTHY VISION on Blog Talk Radio

I learned from Dr. Cunningham that baseball is the leading cause of eye injuries in children 14 and under, while basketball is a leading cause of eye injuries among 15-24 year olds. Interestingly, most basketball injuries are caused by opposing players’ fingernails. Accidental nail scratches to the eye can cause corneal abrasions as well as bacterial and fungal infections. The most common sports eye injuries (from least to most serious) include: corneal abrasions, fungal infections, contusions (bruises) to the eye, hyphema (blood in the outer layer of the eye), tearing of the iris, and retinal detachments.

To reduce the risk of eye injuries, regular fashion eyewear should not be worn while playing sports. Glasses and sunglasses that do not carry a sports-specific impact rating can shatter on impact, causing further potential harm to the eyes. Protective eyewear, polycarbonate lenses, and face shields have helped to reduce eye injuries in sports such as lacrosse, squash, racquetball, and hockey. Contact lenses may provide an additional advantage for peripheral vision during sports. Since impaired peripheral vision is the number one cause of concussions, enhanced awareness of the full visual field can reduce the risk for serious injury. To locate an optometrist near you who specializes in sports vision, check out the doctor locator search feature of the American Optometric Association website.

If you or someone you know suffers an eye injury, Dr. Cunningham offers the following tips for discerning whether or not you might need medical attention. Red flags for serious eye injury include:

  1. Reduced vision lasting more than 2 hours
  2. Eye pain lasting more than 24 hours
  3. Seeing flashes of light in the injured eye
  4. Pain in the eye that does not improve after rinsing with sterile saline solution
  5. A black eye
  6. Obvious swelling of the eye ball

Any of these six red flags may indicate serious injury, such as infection of the eye, fractured eye socket, or retinal tear and require immediate medical evaluation. I hope that you never experience an injury like these (or A.J. Burnett’s), but if you do—or you witness someone who has such an injury—now you know when to see a doctor!


Disclosure: Dr. Val Jones is a paid consultant for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.

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About the Author

Val Jones is passionate about preventative medicine, nutrition, exercise, and healthy vision.