The eyes, among our most important external organs, are also among our most vulnerable. Unlike the skin, the surface of the eyes must remain moist to avoid irritation; it is also much more sensitive to abrasion and contact with foreign substances. Besides the risk of discomfort, long-term eye injuries can occur if appropriate eye safety measures are not taken. As you will learn here, most of these safety considerations are simple and easy to adopt on a daily basis.
Taking a few eye safety precautions in your everyday life can dramatically decrease the risk of eye injuries. Making habits out of these tips and teaching them to your children will help safeguard your family's vision for the long term.
- Always handle sharp objects, including knives, scissors, and even pencils, with extreme care. Never point them at your face or someone else's, and do not allow small children to have access to them.
- Supervise children’s activities and select toys for them that have no sharp, pointy ends or high velocity projectiles.
- Prepare a well-lit environment whenever you read, write, or engage in any activity that requires extended use of the eyes. If necessary, wear eyeglasses or contacts of the correct prescription.
- When surfing the Internet or using the computer for any lengthy period of time, be sure to blink plenty and look away from the screen periodically. This might sound like an unnecessary reminder, but the way our eyes perceive computer monitor images makes them feel the need to blink less, so it is important to take steps to keep them moisturized.
- Know essential first aid steps to take in the event of various eye injuries, including how best to flush them with water and under what circumstances it is necessary to do so.
- Have regular eye exams, and schedule a special one if you notice any persistent and unexplained irritation.
- Always wear proper eye protection, taking special care when working with chemicals or power tools or engaging in hobbies involving small pieces of material.
- Wear eye safety gear and helmets as appropriate when participating in sports, particularly those involving small balls, such as racquetball. If you have undergone LASIK or another type of refractive surgery, it is especially important to wear eye protection.
- Sunglasses are crucial for preventing long-term sun damage to the eyes. Be sure to select and wear those that block both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation from the sun.
- Avoid looking directly at the sun, especially during an eclipse.
- Household chemical spray bottles should never be pointed at your face. Keep them at arm’s length whenever you spray them.
- Store dangerous chemicals in a safe, stable location to avoid spills and splashes.
- Wash your hands after using any chemicals so that you do not accidentally rub them into your eyes.
- Never remove protective guards from power tools.
- Wear protective equipment, including seatbelts in cars and helmets when bicycling or skating.
Eye Injuries and Your Health
Eye injuries can occur in any number of ways, and the severity and duration of the results varies according to the cause. Minor scratches to the outer surface of the eye are fairly common; while uncomfortable, they should heal within a day and cause no impairment of vision. However, if the scratch bleeds or does not heal, or if it is on the cornea (the clear part of the eye over the pupil and iris), you should contact a doctor immediately.
Foreign bodies such as dust and splinters can scratch the eye or become embedded in its surface if not removed. Blinking, which encourages tears to form, may help wash the object out (do not rub or move the eye if the object is resting on the cornea). If blinking fails, try to flush out the eye with water. Contact a physician if the object remains.
Items stuck in the eye should never be removed by anyone but a doctor. Cover the eyes with a clean cloth to prevent their use, and see a physician immediately. Take care not to move or apply any pressure to the object while waiting for professional attention.
Even common household chemicals can be a threat to eye safety. If one gets into your eyes, have someone read the instructions on the chemical container and help you follow the directions. Generally, flushing the eyes with water is the best immediate course of action; to do so, hold the eye open and have cool water poured on it for several minutes, even if it is uncomfortable to do so. After rinsing, contact lenses may be removed from the eyes. Contact a physician for further treatment.
Blows to the head can cause black eyes (which are bruises that form in the eye socket) or even eye trauma. If lingering pain or vision impairment results from such a blow, contact a physician for further treatment.
Any of these eye injuries, if treated improperly or insufficiently, can lead to long-term eye damage and vision loss. When in doubt, it is best to contact a healthcare professional for instruction on the best eye safety steps to take — from simple blinking to an immediate visit to the hospital. Eyes do not heal as easily as muscles, bone, and skin, so act quickly whenever a serious problem arises.
How the Eye Stays Protected
Since the eyes are both important to our interaction with the world and relatively delicate, nature has provided us with a number of organs and tissues to ensure lasting eye safety. Sometimes, they are not enough all by themselves, but avoiding eye injuries would be a lot tougher without them.
The body’s natural eye protection starts with the shape of the skull. The eyes reside in the hard, sheltering eye sockets, whose hard bones surround most of the mass of the eyeballs and keep them from receiving direct, physical impact. Above the eyes, the eyebrows help filter out harsh light and catch debris falling down from above. The eyelids, of course, can cover the eye completely to block out intense light or ward off small objects. The eyelashes on the rims of the lids serve a similar purpose to the eyebrows.
Tears, usually associated with the expression of strong emotion, are actually most important as a means of keeping the eyes moist and washing out small foreign bodies that get on the eye surface. When tears fail, as in dry eye syndrome, irritation and damage to the eyes can result. Lastly, the blink reflex protects the eyes by closing the lids automatically whenever an imminent threat is perceived. By circumventing the need for you to consciously decide to close your eyes, this reflex ensures the fastest protection possible. Other parts of the body instinctively protect the eyes, too, as you may notice the next time your hand flies up to cover them when someone turns their car's high beams on at night.
Altogether, these mechanisms provide a very effective, rarely failing system of eye safety. We can thank our bodies that we don’t have to work harder than we do to preserve our precious vision throughout our lives.
Talk to an Eye Doctor for More Information
The most important part of your ongoing eye safety is your personal responsibility in safeguarding your eyes. Some eye injuries are inevitable, though, so it is good to know where to turn in case of an emergency. Find an eye care specialist in your area today to ensure that your vision remains as healthy and functional as the rest of your body.
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