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Vision quest: protect your sight against eye injuries.

Ever wondered what would happen if you lost your sight? So much of our existence depends upon our ability to see the world around us. Vision is the most important sense for navigating through life. While many blind people lead happy, successful lives, sight is a precious ability which, if lost, alters one's existence drastically.

Eye injury is the second-leading cause of visual impairment after cataracts. According to Unite for Sight, a nonprofit organization founded to improve eye health and eliminate preventable blindness, approximately two million people in the United States sustained eye injuries that required medical treatment in 2001. Approximately 100,000 of these occurred as a result of sports or recreational activities. Experts estimate that more than 90 percent of these eye injuries were completely preventable, and more than 55 percent of eye injuries happen to people under the age of 25.

In certain professions, especially trades and manufacturing, eye injury risks are well-known and documented. OSHA requires training, safe work practices and the use of safety equipment and protective eyewear to prevent eye injuries in the workplace.

But what can you do about the risk of eye injury in your home and during recreational activity? Can you identify the greatest risks to your sight outside of work?

Based on U.S. Eye Injury Registry data from 1988 to 2000, 40 percent of serious eye injuries occur in the home, with another 13 percent occurring during sports and recreational activities. Risks to the eyes around the home include household chemicals, yard maintenance, workshop and tool parts, battery acid, fireworks and the unsupervised use of toys and games.

How can you protect those baby blues (or browns) from injury? Prevention is the key, and this is particularly important if you already have lost vision in one eye or have a degenerative condition that impacts your sight.

As a start, parents can set a good example for children by wearing protective eyewear when using power tools or mowing the lawn. Eyewear is specialized and must meet very specific standards. Safety glasses that meet American National Standards Institute Z87.1 standards provide the best protection; they have plastic or polycarbonate lenses and are designed to protect against impact and chemical splash.

Use eyewear that meets the American Society for Testing and Materials standard F803 for selected sports--racquet sports, baseball, basketball, women's lacrosse and field hockey. Other sports require specialized eyewear such as paintball, ASTM standard 1776; youth baseball batters and base runners, ASTM standard 659; and ice hockey, ASTM standard F513. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology strongly recommend that children wear protective eyewear when playing sports if there is a risk of eye injury.

Prevent Blindness America recommends the following strategies to guard against eye injuries in your home.

Protect children against eye injury risks by avoiding toys with sharp or rigid points, shafts, spikes, rods and dangerous edges as well as flying toys, projectile-firing toys and BB guns. These pose a danger to all children, particularly to those under five years of age.

Keep toys intended for older children away from younger children. Beware of items in playgrounds and play areas that pose potential eye hazards. Use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs. Leave personal-use items such as cosmetics and toiletry products, kitchen utensils and desk supplies where they are not easily accessible to children.

Provide lights and handrails to improve safety on stairs and pad or cushion sharp corners and edges of furnishings and home fixtures. Protect eyes from chemical injuries by wearing chemical splash goggles or face shields when using hazardous solvents, cleaning products, fertilizers and pesticides.

Read and follow all manufacturer instructions and warning labels. Do not mix cleaning agents. Keep paints, pesticides, fertilizers and similar products properly stored in a secure area.

When doing yard work, inspect and remove debris from lawns before mowing and wear safety glasses or dust goggles to protect against flying particles. If you work with power tools or equipment, wear safety glasses any time there is a risk of generating dusts or debris.

Wear chemical protective goggles or a face shield to protect against battery acid during battery maintenance or servicing. Keep your tools in good condition. Damaged tools should be repaired or replaced.

Eye injuries also result from motor vehicle accidents. Always use occupant restraints such as infant and child safety seats, booster seats, safety belts and shoulder harnesses in cars.

Avoid using fireworks and go to the professional displays instead. There is no safe way for nonprofessionals to use fireworks, including sparklers. Using any type of fireworks is strongly discouraged because of the high numbers of eye injuries caused by these devices.

If you spend significant time outdoors, invest in a good pair of sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays to prevent radiation injury from the sun's ultraviolet light. Significant exposure to these UV rays can damage your retina and cornea and can cause cataracts or macular degeneration. The highest levels can be reflected from snow, sand and water, and damage can occur at high altitudes and low latitudes. UV radiation is highest during the day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Always wear special goggles when using a tanning bed.

For more information on protecting your sight, visit the following Web sites:

Prevent Blindness America

American Academy of Ophthalmology

Unite for Sight

University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center


The author is an industrial hygienist with the Safety, Health and Environmental Management Division.
COPYRIGHT 2007 U.S. Department of State
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:SAFETY SCENE
Author:Bradford, Kate
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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