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Tips to Prevent Child Eye Injuries

Contributor: Nimesh A. Patel, MD
6 minute read
A child plays with toys inside

When you’re shopping for holiday gifts this year, don’t forget to keep eye safety in mind. December is recognized as Safe Toys and Celebration Month by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Some 2.4 million eye injuries occur in the United States each year, and one-third of those are in kids age 17 and younger. “Eye injuries in children are surprisingly common,” says Nimesh A. Patel, MD, a Mass General Brigham ophthalmologist who specializes in the medical and surgical treatment of vitreoretinal diseases. Dr. Patel treats patients at Mass Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Patel shares how to avoid eye injuries—and what to do if an injury occurs.

Common causes of child eye injury

In younger kids, toys are a common culprit behind eye injuries. “Small toys that can poke the eye cause most of the problems,” Dr. Patel says. “If you’re looking for eye-safe toys, go for larger and softer rather than smaller and harder.”

He recommends steering clear of these more dangerous play items:

  • BB guns
  • Darts for dart boards
  • High-pressure water guns
  • Toy guns or “blasters” that shoot foam darts, discs, or balls
  • Toys with lots of sharp parts or protruding pieces, especially made of hard materials

Toys aren’t the only danger. Among older kids and teenagers, sports are a top cause of eye injuries, Dr. Patel says.

Kids might get poked in the eye during basketball or other close-contact sports. Events like falls in cheerleading or taking a soccer ball to the face can cause traumatic eye injuries, such as a detached retina. This is a serious condition in which the retina at the back of your eye pulls away from the blood vessels behind it.

Small toys that can poke the eye cause most of the problems. If you’re looking for eye-safe toys, go for larger and softer rather than smaller and harder.

Nimesh A. Patel, MD
Mass General Brigham

Preventing pediatric eye injuries

Eye safety isn’t just something to think about while holiday shopping. You can take steps all year to prevent eye injuries in your family. Dr. Patel offers these pointers:

  • Supervise: A lot of toys that are generally safe still have sharp corners or pokey bits. Teach young kids how to play safely. And keep an eye on little ones while they play.
  • Avoid weapons: “We see a lot of BB gun injuries to the eye, and they’re often really damaging situations that can lead to blindness,” Dr. Patel says. After the injuries he’s seen in the ER, he recommends against letting children use BB guns at all. But if you do, make sure to supervise closely.
  • Wear eye protection: Always wear appropriate eye protection when playing sports: Think goggles for skiing, or protective face equipment when playing hockey. Goggles are also a must for playing paintball, Dr. Patel says. “Paintballs to the eye are a common injury, and they can be really damaging,” Dr. Patel says.
  • Use contact lenses correctly: Misuse of contact lenses is a common cause of eye infections. If your child or teen has started wearing contacts, make sure they know and follow good hygiene. Clean them regularly, and avoid sleeping in lenses, Dr. Patel says.

How to treat an eye injury

What should you do if your child does experience an eye injury? Don’t ignore it.

“With eye injuries, something small can turn into something big,” like an infection, Dr. Patel said. Delaying treatment can lead to worse outcomes, and maybe even vision loss.

Symptoms of eye injuries can include:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Blood in the eyeball
  • Changes in the color of the eye or the shape of the iris or pupil

But some eye injuries don’t look like much at all. “It’s very difficult to tell at home whether an eye injury is serious or not,” Dr. Patel says.

“If there is any injury to the eye, we usually recommend getting medical treatment quickly,” he adds. Mass General Brigham’s Mass Eye and Ear has an emergency department open 24 hours a day, with experts who can treat eye injuries.

Headshot of Nimesh A. Patel, MD