How to help your patients avoid eye injuries at work

March 25, 2016

In celebration of Workplace Eye Wellness Month, find out what you need to know about eye safety for your patients who work in office jobs and heavy industry alike.

Take-home: In celebration of Workplace Eye Wellness Month, find out what you need to know about eye safety for your patients who work in office jobs and heavy industry alike.

According to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20,910 work-related eye injuries occurred on the job in 2014 that forced workers to take time off from work. These injuries add up to cost over $300 million every year in lost productivity and medical expenses, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

Tamara Fountain, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), offered some tips for ophthalmologists to help their patients in the prevention of these types of injuries.

“The types of occupational eye injuries people get can be very specific to their vocation,” said Dr. Fountain, who also has an oculofacial plastics practice, Deerfield, IL. “So when you have a patient who’s experienced an eye injury at work, it can be important to know what type of job your patients do.”

Being familiar with the vocation of the patient can even help determine the course of treatment or which preventive measures would be most effective for the patient to avoid re-injury, she added, explaining that 90% of eye injuries could be avoided with the proper eye protection.

Protective eyewear is extremely specific for each vocation. Welders, for example, need the right type of visor or face shield to prevent welder’s flash from the extreme heat and light emitted. For those working outside in landscaping industries, the best option to prevent eye lacerations and cornea abrasions are wraparound, polycarbonate, shatterproof glasses. Those in manufacturing and construction industries must also take precaution against eye injuries such as hyphema, orbital fracture, and retinal detachment from trauma.

It is critical to explain to patients that work in fields of heavy industry, machinery, or those with exposure to chemicals to understand which eyewear is most appropriate for their activities, and to use it. To spread awareness of these issues to patients, Dr. Fountain encourages using resources such as the Academy’s EyeSmart resources.

Office workers also at risk

 

While severe eye-related trauma and injuries may be more prone to affect those working in industrial fields, the hundreds of thousands of people working at computer desk jobs are also at risk for eyestrain.

For those people who spend large amounts of time at a computer screen or looking at papers, Dr. Fountain suggests patients employ the 20-20-20 rule. “Look away from the screen every 20 minutes to an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds,” she said. “There are also adjustments in their office ergonomically that can help, like placing the screen at least 25 inches away or using a matte filter to cut glare.”

Dry and red eyes are increasingly common for people who work in front of a screen for extended periods of time because they do not blink enough. For these situations, patients can use artificial tears.

Moreover, there are also lifestyle changes patients can incorporate into their lives to help prevention of eyestrain. Using a humidifier and consuming more omega-3 fatty acids by means of eating cold-water fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, or taking fish oil supplements are several potential interventions Dr. Fountain suggests. For more information on digital devices and eyestrain, visit the AAO website.