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Eye Safety

Stay Watchful During Active Season

As energy levels soar during the summer months, our children engage life with vigor. As parents, we are ready for them to fly. Whenever possible, I like to advise some level of caution where the eyes are concerned, yet strike a balance, as children need to be children. So, here are some simple reminders.

An eye injury can occur at any time, in any place. Adequate prevention and protection is important and could eliminate most eye injuries. Nearly half of eye injuries occur in sports and recreational activities – more often in children and teens than in any other age group.

Sports with high velocity ball action are potentially the most dangerous: racquetball, squash, tennis, soccer, golf, baseball, basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, water polo, and hockey. Protective glasses or face shields are recommended for these sports. The best protective eyewear is a sports frame (not daily wear glasses) with polycarbonate lenses. If a child has a need for better vision with glasses, this prescription can be placed in the sports glasses. Although many athletes wear contact lenses, they do not provide protection against eye injury. If a child has poor vision in one eye, they should wear glasses for protection at all times in order to protect the only good eye.

As children run through the yard playing, those low hanging branches, their favorite pirate sword, or a simple stick can quickly become dangerous. Paint ball, pellet guns, and BB guns can cause very serious injuries. Numerous household items fit this profile, as well. Oh, the list goes on, and I think parents get the idea. We want our children to enjoy their childhood, but we can’t protect them from everything. So it is important to know what to do when something does happen.

With regard to injuries, if a chemical is involved, immediate irrigation with water is critical. Flush the eyes and face with any available source of water for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Follow up immediately with a trip to the emergency room or ophthalmologist. If a sharp object has penetrated the eye (like a fishing hook), do not pull it out. Instead, take the child to the emergency room as soon as possible. Other blunt or sharp injuries should be examined by an ophthalmologist, since the serious nature of the injury may not be readily apparent. With quick and appropriate care, eye injuries can be treated.

For those children too young for usual outdoor sports, signs of an eye injury can include severe pain, inability to open an eye, persistent tearing and redness, and lack of interest in eating. Pediatric ophthalmologists are trained to detect such injuries and should be the first stop should a concern arise.

Here in central Virginia, any column on eye safety would be incomplete without talk of sunglasses. Given that there is some evidence that long-term exposure to the sun can lead to corneal burns, eyelid tumors, and even cataracts, gently encouraging our children to wear sunglasses is a good idea. I recommend glasses with 99 to 100 percent blockage of UV-A and UV-B ultraviolet light for all members of the family. They cost little, can be found most anywhere, and should be clearly labeled.

Ed Wortham V, MD, is a pediatric ophthalmologist and a father. He has helped children in Richmond see better, and their parents feel better about eye care since 1996.
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