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Eye Protection at Work

By Sasha L Radford, OD

I tend to be a bit accident prone. I’m no equestrian, but after 2 years of horseback riding lessons I should know not to let the horse get so close to the gate that my knee slams into it, requiring a brace for three weeks. Also, how could I have known that dancing along with Nintendo Wii’s “Just Dance 2” barefoot could cause a stress fracture? I’m an optometrist, not a podiatrist! Wearing a huge boot on my foot for a month taught me that lesson, though.
As an optometrist, however, I know all about eye safety and preventing ocular injuries. I’ve removed hundreds of foreign bodies from patients’ eyes, tended to countless corneal abrasions, and treated the occasional chemical splash to an eye, all while sympathizing with the excruciating pain these can cause. With all this knowledge and experience, my own eyes should be extra safe from injuries, right?
Wrong.
As we’re progressing through our office expansion and remodel, Dr. Stoller has been very involved in the construction process – he delights in removing trim, building shelves, and placing underlayment. I’m much better at the interior design aspect – choosing colors, furniture, and décor. But I try to help with what needs to be done and there are several windows we’ll leave in place that need to be re-stained to match the new trim.
I’d never stripped varnish before but Dr. Stoller showed me how it’s done; one Friday I came in and started with the window in our optical lab – not so much pressure for my first since it’s not in public sight! I used the thick, goopy stuff and a scraper and found out how tedious yet weirdly satisfying the job is. Next, while scrubbing away the excess with a steel wool pad soaked in denatured alcohol, I somehow managed to splash alcohol into both my eyes.
Thank goodness a few of the optical staff were there to help me. My eyes immediately clamped shut, burning uncontrollably so they had to lead me to the eyewash station. I knew I had to flush my eyes out for several minutes but that is easier said than done – they were hurting so bad I could barely keep them open. I was able to do a bit of rinsing myself but ultimately the staff had to pry my eyes open and flush with sterile eye wash.
I was left with a corneal burn in one eye, but thankfully only the top layer (epithelium) was damaged. It was painful all evening, but by the next morning, my cornea was healed.
Prevent Blindness America has declared March to be “Workplace Eye Wellness Month” and reports that over 2000 people injure their eyes at work each day; 10-20% of those injuries result in temporary or permanent vision loss. However, 90% of all eye injuries are preventable by simply using protective eyewear.
Common eye hazards include flying objects or debris, tools being used, and chemicals. Superficial foreign bodies might be removed by flushing the eye but more firmly embedded objects must be removed surgically by an eye care professional and may or may not result in scarring, depending on the location and depth of injury.
Chemical burns can be particularly damaging, and it is critical that whenever a chemical splash into the eyes occurs that continuous irrigation of the eyes for 20-30 minutes be performed as soon as possible to flush out the substance and neutralize any acids and alkalis. Next, treatment by an eye care professional is necessary to assess the damage, treat inflammation, prevent infection, and relieve pain.
The best treatment, of course, is not to get the injury in the first place! Know the ocular hazards in your work areas and protect yourself accordingly. The type of eyewear you use depends on your environment, but there are many forms available: safety glasses (prescription if needed), side shields, goggles, and more. Always wear protective eyewear, even if the possibility of an injury is remote. Anything can happen. . . I’m proof of that!