Why Safety Glasses Matter

We all know that you need to wear safety glasses to protect the eyes in chemistry lab or when doing dangerous stuff like running a Jackhammer or Circular Saw. It is common knowledge that it is important to protect the eyes when they are vulnerable to permanent damage.

To put it bluntly, the eyes are one of the most easily damaged structures on the human body. With many injuries such as blunt trauma, chemical burns, and superficial scrapes, a quick visit to the local eye doctor or Emergency Room (one with an eye doctor on call) can get things on the road to healing. There may be one or several follow ups to make things right, but usually if you present to the EYE doctor quickly they will be likely to get you a good outcome. At this time it is worth mentioning that going to a Doc-In-The-Box urgent care facility (not an Emergency Department of a hospital with ophthalmology or optometry coverage) is less than ideal. Sure the MD who sees you got some basic training on eyes during med school, but they are not eye specialists. These clinics lack the tools and expertise to get the diagnosis and treatment right.

There are unfortunately a few types of eye injuries that are rather likely to result in moderate to severe visual impairment, even if you do the right thing and see a good eye doctor immediately. Nobody wants to loose vision in one or both eyes. Read on for important info related to keeping your eyes safe and healthy.

FYI, the image associated with this blog post depicts an eye with a very small bit of metal lodged in the front layers of the cornea. In case you don’t already know, the cornea is the clear lens on the front of your eye, just anterior to (in front of) your iris (the colored part of your eye). It turns out the cornea works really hard all day to keep the cells it is made up of (and therefore your vision) nice and clear. If we have an injury, chemical burn, or foreign body (like the chunk of metal we rusting in the pictured cornea), then there is likely to be severe pain and reduced vision.

That’s right, injuries (or infections) involving the cornea are typically severely painful. It turns out that the cornea is one of the most heavily innervated tissues in the entire human body. With so many nerve endings in the cornea, a scrape, or even a small piece of foreign matter lodged there, causes pain on a level where many people cannot stand to open their eye for more than a second. We are talking eight to ten out of 10 on the pain scale. When the pain is anywhere near that intense, your eye doctor will put in a drop to numb the eye. This will let the patient to relax and open the eye, allowing the optometrist or ophthalmologist to proceed with the physical examination.

In the case of the metal foreign body pictured here, the eye would be numbed, stained with a special dye to illuminate any irritated flesh, and then the chunk of metal would be removed. Most often such a procedure would involve a golf putter-shaped instrument called a spud, but in some cases may require the use of a hypodermic needle or a small ophthalmic drill called an Alger-Brush that allows the eye doctor to remove the rusty metal dust lodged in the cornea. Typically the eye will make a full recovery within a week’s time with the diligent use of prescription eye drops. However, if the injury is near the central cornea, it could result in permanent visual impairment in that eye due to scarring, even with appropriate treatment.

Nobody wants an eye injury, big or small. Here is a quick list of eye injuries that you want to avoid if at all possible:

  1. Hard foreign matter getting into the eye; so wear safety glasses in risky situations, even if you are just changing the oil under the Ford
  2. Chemical burns; so don’t put peroxide (or Clear Care contact lens solution) or other acids or bases near the eye. Isopropyl alcohol (aka rubbing alcohol) is very commonly used for minor cuts, but you should NEVER use it around the eyes. Use safety glasses when diluting volatile chemicals such as bleach or ammonia, both of these will cause serious damage, but bases like ammonia can blind you. If you do get a chemical burn, rinse the eyes well with water, and then go directly to the Emergency Room or eye doctor’s office.
  3. Poking and scraping injuries; I have treated many patients who got poked in the eye by babies, scratched with branches while hiking and gardening, and who have scratched their own eye with their long fingernails while inserting or removing contact lenses. Try to avoid these scenarios whenever possible, and wear safety glasses or sun glasses when appropriate.

You only have one pair of eyes to last you from the cradle to the grave. Think about your eyes, an protect them with safety glasses as needed.


Sincerely, Dr. Mark Cannon, optometrist @ Cannon EyeCare (at Market Optical) in Seattle, Washington