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Pediatric Ocular Trauma

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Pediatric ocular trauma is any injury to a child's eye.  Damages to the eyeball, eyelid or bones around the eye are all examples of pediatric ocular trauma. Eye trauma in children accounts for 7% of all physical injuries and between 10 and 15% of all eye diseases in kids.

Types of Pediatric Ocular Trauma

Injuries may be the result of blunt, penetrating or chemical traumas.

  • Blunt trauma occurs when something such as a fist, elbow or ball strikes the eye.
  • Penetrating trauma is the result of an object such as a pencil, stick or projectile entering the eye itself.
  • Chemical trauma can happen when harsh liquids such as household cleaners or chlorine damage a child's eye.

Several eye injuries can threaten your child's vision and need immediate treatment. These include:

  • A foreign body in the eyeball or cornea
  • A ruptured globe (usually from fireworks or explosives)
  • Burns on the cornea (most often from chemicals)
  • Blood in the anterior chamber of the eye (hyphema)
  • Detached retina
  • Infections on the cornea (from contact lenses)

Causes

Pediatric eye trauma usually happens during play or at school. Kids who play sports are at particular risk and should wear protective goggles or masks during both practice and games. Volunteer eye health and safety organization, Prevent Blindness America, estimates that 90% of eye injuries in sports can be prevented if athletes wear protective eyewear. Other causes of eye trauma in kids include fireworks, unsafe storage of chemicals and accidents.

Tests and Diagnosis

Tests and Diagnosis

If your child has had an eye trauma, first determine the cause. Blunt traumas may not need treatment, while perforations or chemical injuries often require immediate care. If your child is complaining of pain or vision problems following an eye injury, see a doctor.

Your child's doctor will usually ask you the following questions, depending on the type of injury:

  • Does your child wear contact lenses for extended periods of time?
  • Was your child near any chemicals or tools that could result in projectiles (such as a lawn mower or certain power tools)?
  • Has there been any discharge from the eye?
  • What, if any, types of first aid have you administered?

Your pediatrician may refer your child to an ophthalmologist to perform a physical exam. The ophthalmologist will examine your child’s eye using one or more of the following tests:

  • Seidel's test: The doctor places a fluorescein-moistened strip over the affected area to see if there is an open globe injury.
  • pH test: In the case of a chemical trauma, the ophthalmologist may perform a pH test. The doctor will irrigate the eye with saline and then use litmus paper to check the eye's pH against a healthy control.
  • Eye shield: If the doctor suspects a globe injury, he may apply a rigid shield over the eye ahead of treatment. 
Treatments

Treatments

If your child has any type of eye injury, you should see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Eye injuries are a leading cause of vision impairment in kids, so early treatment can save your child's sight. Often, frequent examinations will be needed until the eye is completely healed.

Treatment will depend on the type and severity of the eye injury:

  • Lacerations to the eyelid can result in damage to the tear ducts and other eye structures. They are typically treated using microsurgery.
  • Scratches on the cornea (the surface of the eye) may be treated with antibiotic eye drops or patching.
  • Deeper lacerations (such as with a stick or glass) put a child at risk for permanent vision loss. They need immediate attention and, most often, surgery.
  • Fractures to the bones surrounding the eye usually require surgery to repair the damage and to prevent complications, including vision loss.
  • Bleeding caused by blunt traumas can increase pressure in the eye. An ophthalmologist will determine the best course of treatment.
  • Chemicals or other harmful substances in the eyes need to be immediately flushed out with water. You should see a doctor or visit an emergency room promptly. Bring a sample of the solution with you so the doctor can decide on the best treatment for your child.

Prognosis

If an eye injury is superficial, your child has a good chance of a full recovery. Most small foreign bodies that don't cause infection won't threaten a child's vision either. More serious injuries (such as damage to the globe) can result in complications, including glaucoma or retinal damage, down the road. Eye injuries in younger kids (10 and under) can be more complicated because their visual systems are still developing. The best treatment for eye injuries in children is prevention.

Resources

Resources

For more information about pediatric ocular trauma, please visit the following sites:

This page offers answers to a lot of questions about eye injuries.
American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology

This site has specific information about dealing with – and preventing – eye injuries to toddlers.
BabyCenter

A guide to prevention of eye injuries, and to first aid when they occur:
American Academy of Ophthalmology

FAQs

FAQs

What is a pediatric ocular trauma?

Pediatric ocular traumas are any injuries to a child’s eye. Examples include blunt, penetrating and chemical trauma.

How common are eye injuries in kids?

Pediatric ocular trauma is very common. Eye injuries are responsible for 7% of all injuries in children and are the second leading cause of vision loss.

What causes pediatric ocular trauma?

Eye injuries in kids most often occur at school or during play. Sports such as hockey, baseball or wrestling can put your child at risk for pediatric ocular trauma.

How are eye injuries in kids diagnosed?

An ophthalmologist will evaluate the injury to determine treatments. If your child gets a chemical or harmful substance in her eyes, flush them with water and see a doctor immediately.

What are the treatments for pediatric ocular trauma?

Treatments for eye injuries depend on the type and severity of the damage. Kids with minor scratches to the cornea might get eye drops, while a child with globe damage could need surgery.

What is the prognosis for children with eye injuries?

With proper treatment, many children with eye injuries fully recover. Serious injuries (such as fractures to the bones around the eye) can lead to glaucoma or retinal damage later on.

How can I prevent my child from sustaining an eye injury?

Protective eyewear can prevent up to 90% of eye injuries incurred while playing sports. Make sure you keep dangerous or unsafe chemicals and liquids locked up or out of reach of children.

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