Common Work-related Eye Disorders

Sight is one of, if not the most important, of the senses. The type of work-related eye problems one faces depends on what the occupation entails. This article will summarize the various eye conditions one can face at work, as well as common work-related injuries.

Screen Time Leads to Strain Time
Digital eye strain, fatigue, and dry eyes are common eye problems for workers who are routinely at a computer. Digital eye strain a.k.a Computer vision syndrome is a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader, and cell phone use. With the increasing use of computers and electronic devices at workplaces, as well as work from home, digital eye strain is increasing in incidence.

Several factors contribute to digital eye strain, such as screen glare, poor lighting, poor posture while using the computer, viewing the computer at the wrong distance and angle, uncorrected vision problems, or a combination of these factors. On average, people tend to blink less when using a computer than when reading a printed text. This can cause dry eye, which can contribute to digital eye strain. Prolonged near work may also lead to an accommodative spasm. Symptoms of digital eye strain include headaches, blur vision, tired dry eyes, and neck or backache.

Using the 20-20-20 rule can help to reduce digital eye strain. The rule says that for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, a person should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Following the rule is a great way to remember to take frequent breaks.

Improving your work environment can also help your eyes. Some tips include:

  • Adjust the brightness and contrast on the screen so that it feels comfortable
  • Enlarge the text on your computer screen or digital device.
  • Minimize glare from the light sources in your environment.
  • Consider using a screen glare filter.
  • Keep the screen clean and dust-free. Wipe it daily often with an anti-static cloth.
  • Position your screen at arm’s length (about 18-24inches / 45-60cm) away from where you are sitting
  • Position the monitor at eye level
  • Remember to blink frequently.
  • Fix your chair height so your feet can rest comfortably on the floor.

Dry Eyes in the Office
Office workers may be affected by dry eyes if they spend prolonged periods in front of the computer or air-conditioned rooms or work in very dry or dusty environments. They are also impacted by factors outside of the workplace, such as screen time at home. To treat dry eye, consider using a humidifier in the home or workplace. Lubricating eye drops, such as artificial tears may also help with dry eye symptoms.

Your eye doctor also might recommend the following:

  • Treating allergies, if present
  • Staying hydrated
  • +/- Taking a prescription medicine to increase tear production

Work-Related Eye Injuries
There is a range of agents found in workplaces that can cause eye diseases, disorders, or injuries. While many of these agents are often also found in everyday living environments, exposure at dangerous levels is most likely to occur in the workplace. For this reason, these conditions are commonly referred to as work-related eye injuries or diseases.

Traditionally, work-related eye injuries have predominately affected individuals working outdoors or in the construction, manufacturing, and service industries.

Chemical eye burns: Both highly acidic (pH <4) and highly alkaline (pH >10) substances are toxic to the eye and cause chemical eye burns if they come into contact with the surface of the eye. Alkaline substances present the greatest risk. Such substances are most commonly found in the workplace, for example in laboratory chemicals or industrial cleaning products.

Injury by foreign bodies: The eye may sometimes be invaded by small foreign particles (e.g. dust from manufacturing activities or metal specks from grinding) which can cause irritation and inflammation. While foreign particles rarely cause lasting damage to the eyes, prompt removal of irritating particles is necessary to avoid infection, scarring, or permanent eye damage.

Blunt trauma injuries: Blunt trauma injuries (i.e. injuries which do not penetrate the skin and do not result in external bleeding) to the eye occur as a result of being struck by a heavy
object. They can cause the eye to bleed internally. They may also result in fractures of the bony walls surrounding the eye (i.e. orbital fractures).

Penetrating trauma injuries: These are usually caused by sharp objects penetrating or piercing through the structure of your eye, which may happen at the workplace from hammering nails, filing metal, and working with tools. This is an ocular emergency that requires immediate attention. Penetrating injuries can cause corneal, conjunctival, and/or globe lacerations, vitreous hemorrhage, and retinal tears or detachments. Over time, scarring can also lead to cataracts and glaucoma. While not every penetrating injury can be prevented, wearing protective eyewear while working with hand and power tools can prevent many injuries.

Allergic conjunctivitis: Allergic conjunctivitis is common amongst workers in the food handling and agricultural sectors who are regularly exposed to particular spices, fruits, and vegetables.

Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation: Outdoor workers are often exposed to ultraviolet radiation (in the form of sunlight) in excessive quantities. There are numerous eye diseases and disorders associated with the eyes’ exposure to ultraviolet radiation, including certain cancers of the eye and eyelids, cataract, and pterygium. Artificial sources of
ultraviolet radiation are also found in a range of workplaces and can damage the eyes. These include welding arcs, germicidal lamps, and lasers.

Prevention counts
It has been estimated 90% of workplace-related injuries can be prevented. Protective measures which can be taken to prevent work-related eye injuries include:

  • Providing protective eyewear: The type of eyewear required depends on the job being conducted. Safety goggles with full face protection are particularly important for welders, who may be exposed to high levels of UV radiation, as well as foreign substances that can invade the eye. In other industrial settings, the use of eye goggles is also required and these should have side shields to protect against the invasion of foreign particles and liquids. It should be noted that such eyewear may not protect against dust, particles, and vapors which can cause eye damage.
  • Individuals who spend time working outdoors or driving should be provided with sunglasses and hats to protect their eyes from harmful UV radiation.
  • Keeping eyewash accessible in the workplace: Initial treatment of many work-related eye injuries can prevent serious and long-term eye damage. The single most common approach to treatment is the irrigation of the eye with a saline eye wash (i.e. washing the eye out with a salty eyewash), to remove the foreign substance causing eye injury. In workplaces where workers are at risk of exposure to chemicals or small particles, eyewash solutions should be easily accessible so that eyes that have been invaded by foreign substances can be promptly irrigated and the likelihood of permanent eye damage reduced.
  • Seek care from an eye doctor if there is any concern about an eye problem.

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