Keeping children safe from scraped knees, bee stings, bumps and bruises is a typical part of parenting, but less understood is how to prevent eye injuries in children.
According to the National Eye Institute, eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in kids in the U.S., with most of those injuries related to sports. These injuries alone lead to over 100,000 physician visits per year. And, baseball accounts for the most eye injuries in children ages 5-14. John A. Waters, MD, Board-Certified Ophthalmologist, recommends protective eyewear for all sports, especially small-ball sports, even though most leagues do not require them.
“When it comes to a child’s eye health, we can’t start too early, and we can’t be too careful.”
Dr. John A. Waters
“Safety glasses and eye goggles aren’t just for children who wear glasses or contacts,” Dr. Waters says. “All children who play sports can benefit from polycarbonate lenses, which are the most impact-resistant lenses and provide great vision.”
In addition to sport-related injuries, emergency departments see over 250,000 children each year for toy-related injuries with an estimated 45% of those to the head and face. “It’s important to read warning labels and avoid toys with sharp points and toys that shoot projectiles like darts, pellets, BBs or arrows,” Dr. Waters advises. “It’s also a good idea to scan playgrounds and play areas for potential eye hazards.”
Dr. Waters recommends the following first aid for eye injuries:
- Don’t rub, touch or apply pressure to the eye.
- Don’t try to remove a foreign object that is lodged in the eye.
- Don’t apply any medication, drops or ointment to the eye.
- For a cut, loosely cover the bleeding.
- For a chemical injury, flush the eye with plenty of water.
- For small debris, such as hair or dust, gently lift the eyelids and have the child blink quickly to see if tears will flush it out. You may apply a few artificial tears to help flush it out, as well.
- For any eye injury, see an eye doctor or go to the nearest ER as soon as possible to help prevent further damage and loss of vision.
While these types of injuries are obvious, kids can experience less obvious vision issues, which can be diagnosed during well-child visits, school vision exams and with regular visits to an eye doctor. It’s generally recommended that a child has a baseline eye exam at the age of four before entering kindergarten. Common childhood vision problems include crossed eyes (strabismus), lazy eye (amblyopia), drooping eyelid (ptosis), color blindness, and the need for glasses (astigmatism, nearsightedness and farsightedness).
Signs that a child may have a vision impairment include:
- Not looking at a face or object
- Not following hand movements
- Not having interest in books
- Squinting or unusual head-turning to see TV or electronic screen
A visit to the eye doctor doesn’t have to be scary for kids, and Dr. Waters says he tries to create a fun experience for the child, and an informative experience for the parents and caregivers. “A little information can go a long way in helping parents, teachers and coaches prevent eye injuries, as well as helping children get screened for vision impairments at a young age” Dr. Waters says. “When it comes to a child’s eye health, we can’t start too early, and we can’t be too careful.”