Each year it is estimated that up to 5.7 million children worldwide suffer an eye injury.1 While many of these injuries are minor and the child makes a full recovery, vision loss or blindness occurs in 12–14 per cent of cases.2,3 With 90 per cent of eye injuries being preventable,3 it is important for all health care providers to be aware of and support the strategies available to reduce the incidence of eye injuries. For those children who do suffer an eye injury, as well as children who live with an eye condition or develop a complex eye disease, behavioural optometrists and orthoptists are vital. Working closely with both the child and family, they aim to achieve the very best possible outcomes in eye health, as well as education and social development.
The impact of eye injuries is significantly worse for a child than an adult because of their visual system’s immaturity and the potential to develop amblyopia.
Minor eye injuries, including corneal and lid lacerations or bruises, do not usually cause permanent damage to vision. However open-globe injuries, including penetrating eye injuries, inter-ocular foreign bodies and globe ruptures, involve full thickness disruption of the eye wall are more likely to result in significant vision loss. A recent study of children’s eye injuries resulting in hospitalisation at Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney reported an enucleation rate of 10 per cent. The same study found approximately 30 per cent of open-globe injuries resulted in vision of less than 6/60 and a further 14 per cent with vision 6/15 to 6/60 in the affected eye.4
Domestic Eye Injuries
The cause and type of children’s eye injuries is extremely diverse although there are patterns depending on the child’s age, where they live (urban or rural; developed or developing nation) and the season. Up to three quarters of eye injuries in children occur at home, with everyday household objects often the cause. Commonly available consumer products including elastic luggage straps (commonly known as ocky straps), kitchen utensils, toys, stationery items and furniture have been associated with devastating eye injuries. Boys are overrepresented in the statistics, being up to three times more likely than girls to experience an eye injury.4
Amblyopic children are known to be at increased risk of injury to their good eye9 and because of this, should wear eye protection for all sports where there is a risk of eye injury
Chemical eye injuries are not uncommon in children 0–5 years,5 and are frequently caused by household cleaning agents and glues or adhesives. Should a child be exposed to a harmful chemical, immediate and copious irrigation of the eye is known to improve the outcome. Alkalis are capable of causing major damage because of their potential to penetrate the cornea long after the initial exposure. Parents and caregivers should be reminded to be vigilant with children to ensure they can’t access hazardous chemicals and to be aware of appropriate first-aid measures should exposure occur. Consumer and government bodies also need to continue to reinforce the need for child-resistant packaging and warnings for these common household items.
Games and Toys
Games and toys are also a frequent cause of children’s eye injuries. In Australia, the sale of toys capable of launching projectiles, e.g. toy guns, bows and arrow, are regulated through Australian Consumer Law to prevent or reduce the risk of eye injury. Parents and caregivers should be encouraged to purchase toys appropriate to a child’s age and ensure that children are adequately supervised at play.
Products commonly associated with eye injuries, such as ‘air soft’ guns, are considered firearms and are not able to be sold in Australia. Yet paintballing, which is an increasingly popular recreational activity in Australia, presents a similar eye injury hazard to these guns. While eye protection is generally provided for those participating, eye injuries still occur including when players are ‘off field’ adjusting their goggles. This highlights the importance of education for these types of activities as well as the need to ensure that eye protection is comfortable, fits well and doesn’t fog.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Changes in design rules and legislation relating to motor vehicles, including laminated windscreens, seatbelts and airbags, have helped reduce eye injuries associated with motor vehicle crashes. However, because of the explosive nature of airbags, in the event of a crash a child travelling in the front seat of a car is more likely to suffer an eye injury than those travelling in a rear seat. Indeed, recent reports have shown that a child travelling in the rear seat of a vehicle is 40 per cent less likely to suffer an injury. For this reason, parents should be encouraged to have their children (<13 years old) travel in the rear seat with an age-appropriate safety seat or restraint.6
Fireworks are often associated with catastrophic injuries including burns, abrasions, hyphaema and globe ruptures. Fortunately, the introduction of fireworks legislation in Australia has significantly contributed to a reduction in eye injuries from these products. Countries with little or no regulation, e.g. India, have a much higher incidence of these injuries, with males around 15 years of age at highest risk. Limited supplies of fireworks still remain in some states in Australia and we must continue to ensure that children’s access to these is restricted.
Sports Eye Injuries
Sports-related eye injuries – including orbital fractures, lacerations, hypheama, retinal detachment, corneal abrasion and commotion retinae – are most common for 10 to 19-year-olds with children participating in sports that involve a bat or a ball, or a risk of collision, at the greatest risk of eye injury. Participation in competitive sports is known to increase the risk of eye injury even further.
Sports such as ice hockey in Canada and field hockey in the Unites States have successfully reduced eye injuries by introducing mandatory eye protection. In Australia currently there are standards for squash7 and cricket8 eye protection, though eye protection in these sports is not consistently applied. For those playing cricket, a polycarbonate frame and lens provides sufficient ultraviolet (UV) light and impact protection for those fielding, while those in batsman or wicketkeeper positions need better protection in the form of a faceshield that complies with the standard.8
The Eyes and Fishing
Fishing is a sport with some of the highest participation rates internationally. The use of a hook, line and often a sinker has been used for fishing since prehistoric times. There’s no doubt that a sharp hook and the potential for it to be released at high speed on a weighted fishing line poses a danger to eyes. The size and weight of a sinker, which easily fits into the orbit, is of particular concern with several cases reported of intracranial penetration of hooks and or sinkers via the orbit with devastating effect. Children and bystanders are at particular risk of fishing-related eye injuries and should be encouraged to wear polarised polycarbonate wrap-around sunglasses to adequately protect them from UV, glare and the potential for blunt or penetrating eye injuries.
Other medium-to high-risk sports are identified in table one. Parents, sporting clubs and sporting organisations should be encouraged to consider eye protection for sports that have an inherent moderate to high risk of eye injury.
As eye health professionals it is important that we continue to work with sporting groups and policy makers to encourage children to wear eye protection in sports that have a high risk of eye injury. We also need to work directly with the parents and children who come into the practice.
Prominent sports people can serve as great role models to use when speaking to children about eye safety. Several professional basketball players in the United States wear eye protection while playing, including the now retired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (pictured right) and test match cricket players are often seen wearing the latest sports fashion sunglasses.
The case for eye protection in cricket was highlighted in 2012 when the South African wicketkeeper, Mark Boucher, was forced to retire from professional cricket as a result of a scleral laceration from a ricocheting ball. This injury would more than likely have been avoided if he had been wearing appropriate eye protection. Many adults would remember the former Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, smashing his glass spectacles when playing in the Parliamentarians’ vs. the Media match in 1984. Most spectacle lenses are more impact resistant these days but even so, these cases highlight the need to replace regular spectacles with eye protection in sports where there is potential for medium- to high-impact, and to avoid the use of glass, particularly for children.
Added Impact of Eye Disease
Recently the media reported on a basketball professional in the United States, Isaiah Austin (pictured right), who forfeited his career as a professional basketball player when he was diagnosed with Marfan’s syndrome. Austin’s case highlights the added risk that certain eye diseases and previous ocular trauma or operations can have on the likelihood of eye injuries.
The consequences of further vision loss to an amblyopic child, for example, are devastating. Amblyopic children are known to be at increased risk of injury to their good eye9 and because of this, should wear eye protection for all sports where there is a risk of eye injury. These children should also be advised to avoid participating in sports for which adequate eye protection is not available, e.g. mixed martial arts and boxing. As highlighted in the cases above, children with diseases that place them at higher risk should they experience an eye injury, e.g. high myopes, Marfan’s or those who have had a previous injuries or operation, should be counselled about which sports are more likely to result in eye injury and vision loss and appropriate preventive measures.
Are Dress-Optical Spectacles Adequate?
Polycarbonate is almost universally reported as the material of choice for eye protection. Regular dress optical spectacles, can pose an additional danger to a wearer who is subjected to blunt or penetrating trauma. Following detailed reports on glass spectacle-related eye injuries in the 1970s in the United States, minimum impact requirements for spectacle lenses and sunglasses were introduced. Depending on the individual’s risk profile, as discussed above, if he or she is participating in sports with a medium to high risk of impact, regular spectacles should be replaced with eye protection manufactured specifically so that the frame and lens withstand increased impact.
Eye Injury Prevention
UV Protection for Children
In light of current concerns about growing rates of myopia, children are increasingly being encouraged to spend more time outside away from their ‘small screens’. However as eye health professionals and parents, it is vital that we ensure a balance is achieved and children are not exposed to additional hazards by being outside.
The long and short-term effects of UV light on our eyes is well known. In Australia we are particularly vulnerable, with high UV levels resulting in significantly higher rates of pterygium. This was evidenced by a recent study of Western Australians which found pterygia in 1.2 per cent of 20-year-olds.10
The nature of UV light and its interaction with our eyes is complex. Contrary to skin exposure, peak ocular exposure times to UV light are early and late in the day, when the sun is low. Exposure in the middle of the day, when the sun is overhead, is limited by the shape of our face with our brows providing some natural protection. However, in environments with highly reflective surfaces, e.g. on the water, snow and roads, UV light is reflected at a broad range of angles. Sunglasses with good lateral coverage are particularly important for these environments, both for comfort and protection.
Eye Protection Advice
– for all sports for amblyopic children
Australia is the only country internationally with mandatory legislation that requires sunglasses to offer minimum levels of UV protection.11 The World Health Organisation recommends wrap-around sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat for children to reduce the effects of UV exposure. Education campaigns such as the ‘slip, slop, slap’ and more recently the addition of ‘seek and slide’ have successfully contributed to sunsmart behaviours that have slowed the rate of skin cancer in Australia. Unfortunately the uptake of children wearing sunglasses remains low, with one study reporting only 18.9 per cent of 14 to 20-year-olds wearing sunglasses.12
While it remains a challenge to encourage children to wear sunglasses, we must continue to reinforce the message that sunglasses are important from a young age. Eye care professionals should ensure that a range of options that provide a comfortable and secure fit and good coverage appropriate for a child is available.
The Role of Optometry and Ophthalmology
Eye health professionals play an important role in educating children and their caregivers about common eye hazards and how to avoid them. We should continue to monitor and review eye injuries and act quickly on any trends. Through community interactions, optometrists and ophthalmologists have
a unique opportunity to be influential and ensure that eye protection and eye injury prevention strategies receive greater attention.
Annette Hoskin is an optometrist with extensive experience in the field of eye protection, eye injury prevention, product development, compliance and quality control. Her time is spent between roles at the Lions Eye Institute Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science at The University of Western Australia as a Research Fellow and consulting to Eyres Optics, a WA based manufacturer of eye protection. She is a committee member for Australian Standards Committees for Eye Protection (SF006), Sunglasses (CS053) and Spectacles frames and lenses(MS024).
Joyce Henderson Bequest Fund
\The Joyce Henderson Bequest Fund generously finances the prestigious Joyce Henderson Paediatric Ophthalmology Fellowship. The annual fellowship enables an ophthalmogist to conduct research in this important area. Each year the ophthalmology fellow spends their time jointly between the Lion’s Eye Institute and the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, in Perth Western Australia. For more information about the fellowship and its valuable work, please refer to the LEI website https://www.lei.org.au/research/genetics-and-epidemiology/joyce-henderson-fellowship/
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