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Blunt Eye Trauma: Symptoms, Risk & Treatment
Blunt eye trauma occurs when the eye is hit hard, often from a ball, bat, or other hard object. The injury may damage different parts of the eye, including the eyeball, eyelid, and the delicate bones behind the eyeball.
The length of recovery varies depending on the severity of the injury, if the skin is split open, and if there is a cut or scratch on the eyeball. Minor scratches can heal in a couple of days, and minor injuries may heal in two or three weeks.
The primary concern in blunt force trauma is whether vision is affected. If you, your child, or someone you know has injuries to the eye, eyelid, or area around the eye, contact your local health care provider or go to the emergency room.
Causes of Blunt Eye Trauma
Blunt eye trauma can happen when anything strikes the eye area. These injuries may come as a result of accidents, sports, chemical exposure, or foreign objects.
Car accidents can cause eye injury, whether from the impact of a crash, hitting the dashboard, or shattered glass.
Household items (such as boxes in a garage, paddles, or luggage) can fall on the eye area, resulting in injury. Sharp objects may be involved in accidents, such as metal shards or pieces of glass, that can damage the eyes.
Contact sports are common causes of eye injuries. Whether it’s an elbow to the face during a game of basketball or a punch to the eye area while practicing martial arts, eye injuries from sports are relatively common.
Many sports can cause blunt force trauma, including baseball, hockey, basketball, racquetball, squash, volleyball, football, lacrosse, and water polo.
Eye injuries often occur around mechanical equipment. This may happen while working with saws, drills, or other power tools. Household equipment, such as lawn mowers, weed whackers, and lawn edgers, can also lead to eye injury.
If your work involves chemicals, lasers, or dangerous substances, the risk of eye injury is higher. Workers can prevent eye injuries with protective eyewear.
Symptoms of Blunt Eye Trauma
Blunt eye trauma ranges from mild injury to severe injury to the eyeball and the delicate bones behind the eyeball.
In mild cases of blunt eye trauma, the eyelid and eyeball may experience the following:
- Bruising and swelling, called a black eye
- Cuts in the eyelid
- Cuts in the skin around the eye
- Redness in the white of the eye
In severe cases of blunt eye trauma, the eyelid and eyeball may experience the following:
- Scratches on the cornea
- Lens knocked loose
- Bleeding on the inside of the eye
- Torn retina
- Split eyeball
In cases of a blowout fracture, the person will likely experience the following:
- Eye that looks pushed in
- Difficulty looking up
- Cheek numbness below the eye
What to Do Immediately Following Trauma
Emergency rooms treat nearly 40,000 eye injuries each year from sports-related incidents.
If you have any signs of eye problems, go to your eye health care provider or an emergency room right away.
Signs of eye problems include the following:
- Pain in and around the eye
- Muscle spasms
- Difficulty focusing
- Vision problems
- Tired or aching eyelids
Seek medical treatment immediately following an eye trauma. Do not try to treat eye injuries on your own.
Complications if Eye Trauma Is Left Untreated
Early evaluation is essential to improve results and avoid vision impairment. The sooner you see an eye doctor and get treatment, the better the long-term outlook.
Blunt eye trauma can be serious. The results depend on the severity of the injury, the type of injury, and the amount of time between the injury and treatment.
Complications can arise with eye injuries that are left untreated. Some eye injuries can cause changes in vision, such as low vision, blindness, and other eye problems.
According to the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), if left untreated, injury to the eye can lead to blurred vision, complete vision loss, pain, and permanent damage. Chemicals or irritants in the eye can also cause serious damage if not treated.
Treatment for Blunt Eye Trauma
Minor eye injuries are often treated with common household remedies. Treatment options include the following:
Cold compresses can relieve pain and reduce swelling. Ice packs can provide immediate relief. If you’re using ice, wrap it in a soft, clean towel before you apply it to protect the delicate eyelid skin.
According to Harvard Health, apply a cold compress to a closed eyelid for at least 15 minutes. This can reduce the typical blue and black discoloration that occurs with a black eye.
Use cold compresses for the first 24 to 48 hours following the injury. After that point, you can use warm compresses as well as cold.
Use clean water to flush irritants or chemicals from the eye. Flush the eye for 15 minutes to clean and hydrate the eye.
Since you experience a blow to the eye area, it’s likely that some contaminants may be in the eye. Take this step to mitigate further damage to your eye.
Talk with your health care provider about any eye drops you should use to promote healing. In some cases, you may be prescribed antibiotic eye drops to reduce the risk of infection.
Eye patches cover the eye, protecting it from dust, particles, and light. This allows the eye to rest while healing.
If you sleep on your side, aim to lie on the uninjured side. It can be wise to put an extra pillow under your head to lessen swelling.
A black eye may be a common injury, but it can also be an indication of a more serious injury. Talk with your doctor, especially if you are not sure about the cause.
For severe eye trauma, specialists use advanced technology to diagnose the damage to the eye. This may include ultrasound, CT scans, and OCT.
As eye trauma can stem from various causes, you may be referred to an eye specialist for evaluation and treatment. Surgical treatment may be required to protect vision and appearance.
Blunt Eye Trauma FAQs
How do you treat blunt trauma to the eye?
Minor blunt eye injuries may heal within a few days with compresses, ice, pain medication, and rest. Severe blunt eye injuries may require antibiotic ointments, prescription eye drops, and possibly surgery.
It’s best to have your eye injury evaluated by a professional to determine severity.
How long does it take eye trauma to heal?
Mild eye trauma may heal in one to three days. Generally, a black eye heals within a week or two. Orbital fractures may take several weeks to heal.
What happens when you have trauma to the eye?
Eye trauma can make the eye appear red or bruised. In mild cases, this is typically called a black eye. Vision may change, and you may see floaters and flashes of light. Objects can appear double or blurred.
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Preventing Eye Injuries. (June 2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Quick Facts: Blunt Eye Injuries. (March 2022). Merck Manual.
Preventing Eye Injuries. John Hopkins.
Eye Injuries. John Hopkins.
Injury to the Eye. (August 2018). Journal of American Medical Association.
Black Eye. (March 2022). Harvard Health. Harvard Medical School.
Eye Trauma. New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai (NYEE).
Pediatric Ocular Trauma. (December 2020). American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.
Last Updated December 20, 2022
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