The eye may be our most important sensory organ, yet many of us take it for granted. We mow the lawn, weld and grind metal without adequate safety protection so it's no wonder that eye injury is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Peta Newbold reports.
Michael Simpson is something of an enigma. When he was 9 he lost the sight of an eye during a game of Cowboys and Indians when he was struck by an arrow.
He got on with his life with one good eye, and even passed his driving test. Then at 18 he was involved in another, extraordinary accident. At a dance near his home in a New South Wales country town he was hit in the other eye with a .22 rifle bullet.
He is blind now. "I was at the wrong place at the wrong time", he says philosophically, and that's probably the sort of thing many of the more than 116,000 Australians who seek medical attention for eye injuries each year tell themselves too.
The difference is many of them could have prevented their injuries very simply. They could have worn adequate protective eyewear.
Facts about eye Injury.
A study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre in 1999 reported that:
Nearly one in ten adults at emergency departments who had been injured in an accident had an eye injury.
Eye injuries most commonly happen at home (37.8 percent) mainly outside in the garden, yard or garage.
29.1 percent happen at work (industrial settings, factories, warehouses and construction sites).
The most common cause of eye injury (29 percent) is welding and grinding.
15.5 percent of eye injuries are caused by leisure or recreational activities.
In 1995 it was estimated that eye injuries cost the community $155 million a year.
Taking our sight for granted.
As children we were warned not to run around with scissors or poke sticks at each other but it seems that as adults we are much more complacent about our eyes as the Victorian study confirms. It took the most common cause of eye injury and took a close look at whether the injured took any safety measures. It found:
41 percent were not wearing any form of eye protection at the time of injury.
For those grinders who were wearing safety glasses, objects commonly flicked underneath or through the sides of the safety eyewear.
For welders, injuries commonly occurred because the protective equipment was not worn throughout the entire welding process.
Where the injured were not wearing protective equipment, the accident sometimes happened while they were walking past or helping people who were performing these activities.
Despite the availability of appropriate protective eyewear, eye injuries remain all too common. The report suggested that the reason people failed to wear eye protection was because it didn't fit properly, they didn't like the style, it was uncomfortable or it gave them poor visibility, but most often because they felt it wasn't necessary. Clearly many people working in situations where their eyes are in danger are not aware of it, especially when they were not directly involved in the activity such as while being shown around a factory, or they were watching or helping someone else.
Inadequate protection can be dangerous too. Many people don't realise that safety glasses provide only frontal protection while objects hitting from the side or below cause many injuries.
Danger zones at home.
Safe work practises are improving and eye Injuries at work are decreasing. Unfortunately though, there is little control over safety education and no regulation or enforcement in the use of protective equipment in the home. Injuries to the home handy-person are on the rise. Commonly they are caused by:
Stones flying up from lawn mowers.
A stick piercing an eye when bending down to pick up an object in the garden.
When having fun isn't funny..
Sport and recreational activities is another danger area and Orthoptist Jane Ellis from the Royal Blind Society has seen a number of injuries that could have been prevented caused by a direct blow to the eye by a ball.
"The level of injury frequently depends on the size of the ball," she said. "The worst ones occur when the ball is smaller than the eye socket such as in golf or squash and there's a direct hit to the soft tissue. If the ball is bigger, such as a tennis ball, the bone around the socket protects the eye and the injury tends to be less serious."
Ms Ellis warns that 'wet' bungee jumping can be dangerous too if the jumper is not wearing protective goggles. "When the person hits the water face-on, the impact can cause the retina to peel away at the back," she said.
Living with eye loss.
The loss of an eye can change your life, but according to Michael Simpson most people learn to adapt. And he should know, having made a successful career with the Royal Blind Society in New South Wales where he is the Director of Client and Community Services. He is 45 now and says that losing the sight in two eyes through separate accidents is extremely rare but it has given his life a sense of purpose that he may never have found otherwise.
The link between sight and diet.
The society combines a rehabilitation role for clients who are blind and their families, as well and an educational role in the community. Mr Simpson warns that apart from accidents, loss of sight can also be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. Smoking for instance may be a cause of macular degeneration and diabetes and stroke can lead to vision loss also. "Quitting smoking, eating healthy foods and taking more exercise can all help reduce the risks," he said.
_____________________________________________________________ The report 'Unintentional adult eye injuries in Victoria' by Monash University Accident Research Centre is at http://www.general.monash.edu.au/MUARC/rptsum/es137.htm The Royal Blind Society is at http://www.rbs.org.au/
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