A USC Roski Eye Institute patient was working late in the day in his shop when the machine he was operating on went awry, causing metal shards to fly everywhere. In attempts to stop the machine, he was struck with the flying metal pieces. He visited the USC Roski Eye Institute complaining of severe pain to his right eye. Doctors found metal shards deeply embedded in the surface of his eye (cornea), which were surgically removed. The damage from the sharp metal shards caused corneal scarring and partial vision loss. Injuries such as this one could have easily been prevented had he worn safety goggles during the time of the incident.
Almost 2,000 workers everyday have job-related injuries to the eye that may land them in the hospital. Whether you are a scientist who works with harsh chemicals, a construction worker using heavy machinery or an athlete playing a contact sport, eye injuries sustained in a workplace can lead to devastating consequences and even blindness.
“As an ophthalmologist, I have seen several patients who have come in with vision loss as a result of a work related injury,” said Charles Flowers, MD, associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a cornea specialist at the USC Roski Eye Institute. “I have treated athletes who have had mild, moderate or severe concussions from being tackled on the field or hit in the head with a baseball. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) may lead to mild vision dysfunction such as problems focusing, double vision or even blindness.”
Eye injuries most commonly occur from:
- Projectiles such as small objects (e.g. metal, glass, wood or dust) or larger objects (e.g. nails)
- Blunt force trauma, such as sports-related injuries
- Eye exposure to UV light, laser or chemical or biological agents, such as acids, bases, blood or infectious diseases
“By investing in a pair of safety goggles and wearing them at work regularly, you can save yourself a lifetime of suffering. Unfortunately, too often I see patients who have had foreign bodies, such as glass or metal embedded in their eye or patients who have sustained blunt force trauma caused by a sports-related injury,” said Amir H. Kashani, MD, assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a retina specialist at the USC Roski Eye Institute. “In addition to damaging the front of the eye, injuries such as these can damage the retina, the back of the eye that helps process images. Such injuries may require complex surgeries and most often result in partial vision loss, blindness or even loss of the eye itself.”
Do not wait to see your eye specialist if you think you have an eye injury or feel like there is something in your eye. Some forms of trauma to the eye can be very subtle and only found on careful examination.
Many of us feel that we are being careful at work, but it only takes a split second for you to lose your sight. Depending on the environment that you are in, you can protect your eyes using safety goggles, face shields or full-face respirators. Make sure the eye protection is comfortable, fits well and allows you to maintain full visual function necessary for your job. Be aware of the eye hazards that surround you at all times and avoid touching your eyes before washing your hands. Make note of the eye washing stations available in areas with hazardous chemicals.
In general, take care of your eyes by eating healthy, sleeping well and seeing your ophthalmologist for your annual check up if you are 50 years of age or older or have a family history of vision problems. Outside of work, wearing a pair of sunglasses will protect your eyes from sun exposure.
If you have injured your eye and experience any loss in vision, pain or redness, visit our eye specialists at the USC Roski Eye Institute. To make an appointment, please call (323)442-6335.
by Debbie Mitra