The structure of the face and eyes is well suited for protecting the eyes from injury. The eyeball is set into a socket surrounded by a strong, bony ridge. The eyelids can close quickly to form a barrier to foreign objects, and the eye can tolerate a minor impact without damage.
Even so, injury may damage the eye, sometimes so severely that vision is lost and, in rare instances, the eye must be removed. Most eye injuries are minor, but because of extensive bruising to surrounding structures, they may look worse than they are.
A blunt impact (ie: soccer ball, tennis ball, person’s fist) may damage the structures near the surface of the eye (the eyelid, conjunctiva, sclera, cornea, iris, and lens) and those at the back of the eye (retina and optic nerve). Such an impact may also break the bones that surround the eye. Chemical burns (ie: plaster, oven or drain cleaners, battery acid) can occur when an irritating substance gets into the eye. Even mildly irritating substances can cause substantial pain and damage the eye.
The most common eye injuries are those to the cornea and outer surface of the eye (conjunctiva) caused by foreign objects. Although most of these injuries are minor, some—such as penetration of the cornea or development of an infection from a cut or scratch on the cornea—can be serious.
Perhaps the most common source of surface injuries is contact lenses. Poorly fitting lenses, lenses left in the eyes too long, lenses left in inappropriately during sleep, inadequately sterilized lenses, and forceful or inept removal of lenses can scratch the surface of the eye and lead to an infection.
Other causes of surface injuries include glass particles, wind-borne particles, tree branches, and falling debris. People with certain occupations or hobbies are particularly likely to have small particles fly in their faces. For example, hammering a nail or other metal object with a steel hammer produces white-hot particles of steel that resemble sparks. Any of these white-hot particles can enter the unprotected eye and embed themselves deep within it. Protective eyewear (safety glasses) can help prevent injuries.
Injury to the surface of the eye usually causes pain and a feeling that there is something in the eye. It may also produce an increased sensitivity to light, redness, bleeding from blood vessels on the surface of the eye, or swelling of the eye and eyelid. Vision may become blurred.
Any injury to the eye should be examined to determine the extent of injury and the treatment that is needed. Our doctors are available to treat injuries of the eye and surrounding orbital structures. We have a doctor on-call 24 hours a day.