Get hit in the face by a ball? Think twice before walking it off

You don't always see it coming, but an eye injury can be unnerving to treat if you're not sure what to do.

Key points:

  • Seek medical attention if there are sudden changes to your vision
  • If something penetrates your eye, go to hospital and don't pull it out
  • Seeing flashers and floaters can be a sign of a serious medical issue

Our precious eyes are susceptible to a range of dangers in the warmer months as we spend more time outdoors and play games like backyard cricket or tennis.

So what should you do if you cop a ball to the face?

Diana Semmonds is a Sydney-based ophthalmologist and former vice president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists.

She said it was important to seek medical attention if there were any changes to your vision or you felt pain after being hit in the eye with a ball.

"If a ball hits the eyeball, it can cause bleeding inside the eye itself, and that needs to be diagnosed," Dr Semmonds said.

"The other thing is, it can cause a retinal tear, and you can end up with a retinal detachment."

Strikes to the face, like an inadvertent elbow playing footy, can also cause bruising around the eye and fracture the orbital bone which makes up the socket.

"That can cause the eyeball to sometimes drop down inside the skull," she said.

"That will be pretty obvious, and they just need to get along to their hospital.

"Squash is one of the worst because the little squash ball fits beautifully into your orbital bone. If it lands on your eyeball, it will squash your eyeball. It can cause very serious damage."

Dr Semmonds said protective goggles were essential when playing squash, but sunglasses were advisable when playing tennis to protect your eyes from both the ball and the sun.

Debris from mowing the lawn or twigs in the garden can pose a risk to your eyes.(Unsplash: Jared Muller)

Small things can pose a risk to our eyes too.

Dr Semmonds said one common injury was getting scratched by a child's fingernail or a twig when gardening.

"You get a scratch on the cornea, and a scratch from living material tends not to heal so quickly," she said.

"So they can have this scratch, or it becomes an ulcer, and it can go on for quite a few weeks. And that's very painful."

If it's stuck in, don't pull it out

Mark Beattie is a first aid trainer with St John Ambulance and has over 15 years experience working in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

He said eye injuries needed to be attended to quickly and effectively.

"I strongly encourage you, if you've got any concerns about the eye injury or the severity of the eye injury, seek medical assistance for it," Mr Beattie said.

Mr Beattie said the most common eye injury — and one of the easier ones to manage — was irritation from dust getting into the eye.

"Gently hold the eye open and wash it with clean water," he advised.

However, for traumatic injuries in which the eye has been penetrated, call triple-0.

"If something is embedded into the eye, or when it may be leaking fluid, I would strongly encourage lying the casualty down, cover the eye and call an ambulance," Mr Beattie said.

Dr Semmonds said if something has penetrated the eye, do not take it out.

"Don't pull it out; you leave it there and get to the hospital," she said.

"The best thing to do is if you've got a patch, or just cover your eyes and get to the hospital with a penetrating eye injury because that will need surgery."

Seek medical attention if you experience any sudden changes to your vision.(Unsplash: engin akyurt)Watch out for flashers and floaters

Dr Semmonds said another sign to seek medical attention was if you started to see "flashers and floaters".

"You might think they're little insects flying around or little spots floating that you've never seen before," she said.

"In particular, along with those new spots or floaters, you see a light flash, which is a little bit like someone's just switched on a torch and you think, where's that flashing light come from?

"If you ever see that, again, that's important to seek attention because it can be — not always — but can be a sign of a tear in the retina."

Dr Semmonds said if detected early, a retina tear could be treated with a laser, but delaying a diagnosis increased the likelihood of needing an operation.


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