Children's eye health and safety
10/20/2022 by Luke Radel, M.D.
Eye injuries are one of the most feared injuries for children and their families. Over 40,000 eye injuries occur each year in the U.S. while playing sports and other activities. While most eye injuries are minor and get better quickly, in some cases an eye injury can be severe and even cause blindness.
Following proper safety steps can prevent an estimated 90% of eye injuries.
Here are some answers to common eye health questions and concerns that I hear from children and their families:
Do some sports pose a higher risk for eye injuries?
Sports at higher risk of eye injuries include those that involve a ball, puck, stick, bat or racquet, and contact and combat sports, such as boxing and martial arts. Sports at lower risk for eye injuries include cross-country, track and field, cycling, swimming, dance and gymnastics.
Follow your sport's required safety goggles or face protection protocols when participating in these high-risk sports, even if it is simply practicing. For sports at higher risk for eye injuries, it is recommended to wear 3-millimeter polycarbonate lenses.
What can parents do to prevent eye injuries in their children?
- Avoid playing with projectile toys such as darts, bows and arrows, or other toys that launch projectiles. Parents should closely supervise children and teenagers if they use these items.
- Children and teenagers should only use firearms if they have received appropriate firearm safety training. Even seemingly minor guns, like BB guns and paintball guns, can severely damage the eyes.
- Keep children away from lawnmowers and edge trimmers. If they are old enough to use these tools, they should wear safety goggles.
- Keep all chemicals and sprays out of reach of small children.
- Cover any sharp corners of household furnishings with padding.
- Keep children far away from fireworks, especially projectile fireworks.
- Teach children how to safely use some common household objects, such as rubber bands, writing utensils, paper clips and scissors.
- When spending time outdoors, wear sunglasses that provide 99%–100% UVA and UVB protection.
Are computers or other screens bad for a child's eyes?
Screens are generally safe for the eyes.
Keep eyes healthy and safe while looking at screens by following these tips:
- Do not have the screen too close to your eyes. Keep it at about an arm's length away.
- The top of the screen should be at approximately eye level.
- Reduce excessive surrounding lighting, as that can add additional glare to the screen.
- Limit screen time to two hours per day or less.
- Follow the 20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes of screen time, you should take at least a 20-second break where you look away form the screen at something off in the distance.
- Avoid screens at least one to two hours before bedtime. The artificial light can suppress the brain's ability to secrete its own melatonin, and this can negatively affect your child's sleep.
Can eye makeup harm my child's eyes?
If applied correctly, eye makeup can be safely used.
Consider these safety tips for eye makeup:
- Choose unscented products.
- Do not apply cream or powder too close to the eyes.
- If using eyeliner do not apply it to the inner edge of the eyelids.
- Avoid glittery eye makeup, as it could scratch the eyes.
- To reduce the risk of infection, wash eye makeup brushes often.
- Do not share makeup or makeup tools with others.
- Avoid eye makeup if your eyes have any redness, swelling, drainage or rash.
- If you wear contact lenses and want to wear eye makeup, make sure you apply eye makeup after inserting contact lenses.
When should you reach out to your primary care provider for eye concerns?
- Any injury to the eye or skin around the eye.
- Excessive tearing.
- Redness or swelling.
- Eye pain.
- Changes in vision.
What should parents do for a child's eye if the child has not yet been seen by a health care professional?
- Do not rub the eye.
- Do not apply pressure to the eye.
- Do not touch the eye and do not try to remove any object stuck in the eye. Your child may blink to have tears naturally flush out small particles.
- Gently cover cuts or other wounds.
- Do not apply ointments or medications to the eye.
- Flush the eye with room-temperature tap water for 15 minutes in the event of chemical exposure.
When should you go to the Emergency Department?
- You experience vision loss.
- Chemicals have been splashed in the eye.
- Something feels stuck in the eye.
- You experience severe eye pain.
- You have a cut on your eye or eyelid.
- You experience nausea, vomiting or headache after an eye injury.
- You have blood in the eye or pus draining from the eye.
- Your eye is swollen shut after facial trauma.
- One pupil — the black dot in the center of the colored part of your eye — is differently shaped or a different size than the other pupil.
When can I return to sports after my eye injury?
You should not return to your sport until your clinician has cleared you to play. Do not use topical or oral pain medications to play through eye pain. Strongly consider wearing proper eye protection when you return to sports, even if it is not required.
Luke Radel, M.D., is a physician in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. He is board-certified in pediatrics and sports medicine. Dr. Radel volunteers as the team physician for the John Marshall High School football team. He was named pediatric sports medicine "Top Doctor" in Minnesota Monthly in 2020 and 2021. He has experience treating youth, collegiate and professional athletes.