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HomemifeatureHouse and Garden: The Hidden Dangers

House and Garden: The Hidden Dangers

Life, in general, presents a myriad of threats to our sight. While some of these dangers are obvious; others are hidden. Our homes and gardens, it seems, are among the most dangerous places to be. As summer approaches and with it the holiday season, it’s timely to remind customers of the horrific eye injuries that can occur in the home as a result of work and play – and to provide practical advice to reduce the risks.

Every day, ophthalmologists in the nation’s eye hospitals treat victims of the most horrific eye injuries – many of these injuries, unfortunately, lead to loss of sight. Local optometrists, GPs, medical centres and chemists also treat victims of eye injuries on a daily basis.

It’s something that for me is always top of mind. As the mother of two small boys who are extremely physical in their play, I have often found myself channelling my own mother (and, no doubt, parents everywhere) with the words: “Careful! You’ll put someone’s eye out with that!”

Leaving aside the swordplay with sticks so favoured by my offspring, the hazards presented to our eyes are so many and varied, that I can almost guarantee that each one of us has experienced an eye injury – or near miss – just going about our everyday life.

Many home handy workers are unaware that optical or sun glasses are not a proper substitute for proper
eye protection…

Our vision is extraordinarily important, with about 85 per cent of the sensory input to our brains originating from our sense of sight, and information from the other four senses – hearing, smell, touch and taste – making up the remaining 15 per cent.1 Yet our eyes, located as they are on the outside of our face, are extremely vulnerable.

A survey of eye trauma, the Eye Injury Snapshot, conducted every year for the past seven years by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, has repeatedly found that the likeliest place to suffer an eye injury is in the home. More than half of eye injuries happen in common places like the lawn, garden, kitchen or garage.

“It is often the most common household chores and activities that can lead to devastating eye injuries,” Academy President Dr. Randolph Johnston said when releasing the latest survey results.

“Taking the time to protect your eyes while performing these tasks is the easiest way to protect your sight.”

Eye Injury Snapshot

  • Among the key findings of the latest Eye Injury Snapshot:
  • One in four of the eye injuries occurring at home were due to play/sports.
  • Another 25 per cent were due to home repair or power tools
  • The yard and garden were the places people were most likely to suffer an eye injury in the home.
  • Nearly half of the injuries reported were to people between the ages of 30-64, while children 12 years of age or younger represented about 12 per cent of the injuries.2

The data on home eye injuries in Australia is more limited, however a 2009 report Eye-related injuries in Australia found that the most common specified place of occurrence for eye injury cases that required hospitalisation was the home, accounting for one in five cases overall (20.2 per cent). Broken down by gender, a much higher proportion of cases involving females were reported to have occurred in the home (30.7 per cent) than for cases involving males (15.3 per cent). In the Australian survey, more than a third of hospitalised eye injury cases (37.3 per cent) were reported to have occurred at an ‘unspecified place’ or did not have a place of occurrence reported. The most common specified place of occurrence for eye injury cases for males was a street or highway (17.6 per cent).3

So what are some of these hazards? Let’s start outside.

The Garden

Our gardens are potentially perilous for our eyes. First, there’s the pollen, dust and fumes that can cause reactions that lead to red, itchy allergy eyes – particularly in spring and summer.

In addition to the allergies caused by fresh cut grass, the weekly ritual of mowing the lawn can send small projectiles flying – this is also a hazard when pruning or clipping. A momentary lapse in concentration, or misjudgment, with any one of a number of common garden tools – secateurs, rakes, shovels, clippers – can have catastrophic consequences.

There are the plants themselves – the sap of the Frangipani tree, for example, has been known to cause temporary blindness after entering the eyes. Many plants have sharp leaves or twigs that can scratch or pierce the eye.

There are several common garden pests that can cause eye irritations. For example, if you have a citrus tree in your garden, beware stink bugs – the vile smelling secretions of these flat-bodied, bronze-orange bugs are caustic and will cause a burning sensation in the eyes.

Of course, to rid our plants of these pests, gardeners will often resort to insecticide and other chemical sprays. Chemical manufacturers routinely recommend the use of chemical splash goggles to protect eyes from splashes when mixing chemicals and spray that might drift into the face. Unfortunately, many people don’t heed the warnings.

The Optometrists Association of Australia (OAA) obviously recommends picking up stones and twigs before mowing the lawn, wearing safety glasses or goggles when chopping or splitting wood, trimming bushes and trees, and using whipper snippers.

No Safer Inside

The danger of chemicals obviously continues inside. Using hazardous products and chemicals such as oven cleaner and bleach cause more than 125,000 eye injuries in the US each year.4

In the kitchen, cooking foods can splatter hot grease or oil. Steam from a boiling pot can scald the eyes. Care must be taken while preparing food. Everyone knows that cutting onions will make your eyes water, but if you’ve ever absent-mindedly rubbed your eyes after cutting fresh chilli, you’ll know that the pain can be excruciating.

Those who are cooking for a party should watch out for the flying champagne corks – projectiles such as corks have been known to cause significant eye injuries.

In the bathroom, makeup and other beauty products applied to the eye area can pose a serious threat of infection. As revealed in mivision’s May issue, there’s a risk of contamination from makeup that is out of date or not removed at night; makeup pencils and brushes have the potential to scratch the cornea; and some products can cause allergic reactions.

Using hot objects such as curling irons around the face can cause serious injury if there’s inadvertent contact with the user’s eyes.

Loose rugs and railings or other tripping hazards around the home can lead to falls or slips that cause eye injury. Sharp corners, edges of furniture and fixtures should be cushioned, particularly if there are children or elderly people in the home.

The Eye-related injuries in Australia report noted that falls were one of the most common reasons that women, in particular, were hospitalised for eye injury. (Falls accounted for 26.7 per cent of all eye injuries requiring hospitalisation, and
43.1 per cent of eye injuries in women requiring hospitalisation. The main cause of men’s eye injuries requiring hospitalisation was assault).3

DIY Dangers

A dodgy repair job is not the only potential negative from people who opt to ‘do-it-yourself’ around the home.

Eye injuries are a common category of injuries related to power tools. The American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Eye Injury Snapshot indicates a quarter of eye injuries occurring in the home were due to home repair or power tools.

Drilling or hammering screws or nails into walls or hard surfaces like brick or cement can cause screws or nails to become projectiles, or fragments to come off the surface.

Again, the use of chemical is a potential danger for DIY enthusiasts: chemical splashes, explosions and flammable substances pose substantial risks. Many home handy workers are unaware that optical or sunglasses are not a proper substitute for proper eye protection, which should always be worn when handling chemicals. People using spray nozzles should ensure they are pointed away from anyone’s face before being put into use.

Then, there are the dangers around octopus straps used to tie down anything from tree branches, bikes, surfboards, tools, or luggage, etc. to roof-racks. I’d hate to think of the number of injuries sustained as a result of an occy strap hook hurtling into the eye.

Tiny Helpers

For all of these activities, it is important to remember that bystanders also face significant risk and precautions should be taken to protect their eyes as well. The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that this is “particularly important for children who watch their parents perform routine chores in and around the home”.

“Bystanders should wear eye protection too or leave the area where the chore is being done,” the Academy notes on its website.


1. http://www.medicinenet.com/eye_care/article.htm.

2. American Academy of Ophthalmology, ‘When It Comes to Eye Injuries, the Men’s Eyes Have It’, media release,
6 Oct 2010: www.aao.org/newsroom/release/20101006.cfm

3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Eye-related injuries in Australia (2009). Online at: www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=6442468209&tab=2

4. American Academy of Ophthalmology ‘eyeSmart’ website: www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/living/eye-injuries-home.cfm

Eye Emergency

According to The Optometrists Association of Australia, there are four valuable tips that will prepare your customers to deal with an eye injury at home:

  • Do not rub the eye.
  • In the case of cuts, punctures or embedded objects, do not wash the eye or try to remove objects.
  • In the event of chemical burns or dust in the eye, flush the eye with plenty of cold water for at least 15 minutes.
  • If an eye injury occurs, see an optometrist or ophthalmologist or go to your nearest hospital as soon as possible. The full extent of the damage is not always apparent and even a seemingly minor injury may cause permanent damage if it is not treated immediately.

OAA website: www.optometrists.asn.au/EyesVision/EyeHealthSafety/EyeSafetyatHome/tabid/158/language/en-AU/Default.aspx, accessed 19 September 2011.

Australian Eye Injuries

The Australian report, Eye-related injuries in Australia, released as part of the federal Government’s 2006-2010 National Eye Health Initiative, examined information on eye injuries drawn from a range of data sources, but did not include injuries that presented directly to the private consulting rooms
of ophthalmologists or optometrists.

The report found that “most eye injuries are likely to be minor, not resulting in loss of vision or other serious and lasting consequences”.

“A small minority will have serious consequences (for example, traumatic removal of the eyeball). However, it is difficult to enumerate serious/long-lasting eye injuries given the available data,” the report authors said.

The report found eye injuries were more common for males than for females.

In general practice:
• Eye injuries account for only a small proportion (0.2 per cent) of presentations, with 46 per cent
of presentations associated with a foreign body in the eye.
• Almost half of all eye injury presentations required medication and two in five required a procedural treatment.

In emergency departments:
• Eye injury constitutes 6 per cent of injury presentations to Victorian emergency departments (EDs).
• Four-fifths of presentations involved males; the majority were of working age.
• More than half of presentations were due to a foreign body in the eye.
• Only 3 per cent of ED presentations required hospitalisation.

• More than two-thirds of hospitalised eye injury cases involved males.
• Fracture of bones around the eye and superficial injury around the eye were the most common first occurring eye diagnoses, constituting more than half of hospitalised eye injury cases.
• Falls, assault and transportation were the main types of mechanism of injury for eye-related hospitalisations.
• Hospitalised eye injuries involving Indigenous Australians occurred at a much higher rate
(234 cases per 100,000) than for other Australians (79 per 100,000).

Workers compensation cases:
• The most common diagnosis for eye-related injury and disease compensation claims was a
foreign body in the eye. The median time lost from work because of a foreign body in the eye
in 2004–05 was 1.5 weeks.
• The most common mechanism of injury for work-related eye injury was being hit
by moving objects.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2009, Eye-related injuries in Australia.
Online at: www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=6442468209

Robbed of Sight in Freak Accidents

Michael Simpson was born with normal vision, but two completely unrelated freak accidents, nine years apart, left him completely blind.

Mr. Simpson, who now works as the General Manager, Policy and Advocacy for Vision Australia, grew up on the outskirts of the small town of Galargambone, in western New South Wales.

“I had perfect sight in both eyes until I was nine years old,” Mr. Simpson said.

“I was down the road playing with my neighbours… we were playing ‘Cowboys and Indians’ one day when I had an arrow shot into my right eye. It was just a piece of bamboo, with a nail in the end of it.

“We were playing pretty dangerously, of course. The cowboys had slug guns and the Indians had arrows with nails in the end and as kids, nine years old, you don’t imagine accidents are going to happen.”

The sight in his right eye was never restored, but Mr. Simpson said his life continued without too many difficulties until he was 18.

“I was out at a country dance at a place called Quambone (near his home town of Galargambone) when things went awry.”

He said he was involved in breaking up a fight between two groups of people. As one group of people drove away, a man leant out of the car, and “began shooting into the distance. I happened
to be in the distance,” Mr. Simpson said.

The bullet hit Mr. Simpson in his left eye, leaving him completely blind.

“I had this image in my head, once I learnt that I was going to be blind… of here I was 18-years-old and there really wasn’t much ahead of me.

“But the (Royal Prince Alfred) hospital introduced me to the Royal Blind Society, now Vision Australia, and very quickly… I gained some self-independence and self-reliance and that really helped with my self-esteem and got me back on my feet,” Mr. Simpson said.

Mr. Simpson has been an advocate for the blind through the Royal Blind Society and Vision Australia for the past 35 years. He said Vision Australia dealt with very few clients who had lost their sight due to an injury at home, which was perhaps an indication that the type of injuries occurring at home were less catastrophic than those caused at work, or in traffic accidents.

“In the main, they (injuries caused in the home) get repaired or they might lose one eye or some vision and therefore don’t become clients of Vision Australia,” he said.

However, he said he was aware of young men who had been blinded while making home made bombs, and people blinded playing sport, after being hit by a projectile, such as a golf ball.

“We have seen a greater emphasis on work place awareness of eye safety. There certainly needs to be awareness, particularly with children, about the potential for injury at home and during recreation,” Mr. Simpson.