Early recognition can help prevent serious eye injuries

Approximately 20 percent of all eye injuries are sports-related. These account for 42,000 emergency department visits in the United States each year. Prevention and early recognition can avoid permanent visual impairment.

The eye is divided into the anterior and posterior segments. The major components of the anterior segment, including the lens, pupil, iris and cornea, serve to focus an image on the posterior segment. It accomplishes this by changing the shape of the lens and allowing adequate amounts of light into the eye.

The posterior segment receives the image on the retina and transmits the information via the optic nerve to the brain where it is identified.

Excessive exposure to sunlight is common in athletes who participate in outdoor sports. Ultraviolet light exposure will damage the anterior segment of the eye and cause premature cataracts.

Blue light frequencies of sunlight will penetrate further into the eye resulting in damage to the posterior segment and potentially causing permanent visual loss from conditions such as macular degeneration.

Sunglasses with the appropriate filtering mechanism should be worn whenever possible to avoid these conditions.

Lacerations involving the eyelid have attracted recent attention due to their severity and potentially successful treatment. The eyelid contains a system of intricate glands, ducts and blood vessels that protect and nourish the eye.

"A laceration involving the margin of the eyelid or the tear drainage system should ideally be repaired by a physician with expertise in reconstructive surgery of the eyelid," reports Dr. Kira Segal, an ophthalmologist specializing in oculoplastic surgery at the University of Michigan. "If a specialist is not immediately available, simply place antibiotic ointment and a patch over the laceration. Repair can be delayed up to 72 hours from the time of injury as the eyelid's highly vascular structure decreases the risk for infection."

Serious eye injuries can be prevented with appropriate protective eyewear. Every eye injury should be taken seriously.

Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN.  He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at agalessi@uchc.edu

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