The Eyes of March

In observance of March as Workplace Eye Safety Month, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and opthalmologists across the nation want to alert Americans to the possibility of eye injuries in the workplace.

According to Prevent Blindness America, each working day in the United States, more than 2,000 employees sustain job-related eye injuries, making workplace injury a leading cause of ocular trauma, visual loss and blindness. Of these, 10 percent to 20 percent will be disabling because of temporary or permanent vision loss.

Ninety percent of these injuries can be prevented with appropriate protective eyewear. "Many of the injured workers I've seen didn't think they needed to wear eye protection, or were wearing eyewear inappropriate for the job they were doing," said academy spokesperson Monica L. Monica, MD, PhD. "Safety eyewear must have 'ANZI Z87.1' marked on the frame or lens. Those who work in construction or automotive repair are at particular risk for eye injuries, and really need to wear proper eye protection."

As more people use computers in the workplace, complaints of eye fatigue, difficulty focusing and discomfort have also become common. "Computer screens don't damage vision," said Monica, "but you might still experience eye strain. Fortunately, rearranging your computer workstation, taking more frequent rest breaks or getting proper glasses or contact lenses can often relieve these symptoms."

To pinpoint the cause of discomfort, first get an eye exam. An opthalmologist can rule out the possibility of eye disease as the cause of symptoms. You may find you need glasses when working at a computer, or that your prescription needs updating.

In addition, forced-air heating systems of office buildings can also increase problems with dry eyes during the winter, said Monica. Dry eye occurs when the eye doesn't produce enough tears to keep the eye comfortable. Usual symptoms include stinging or burning eyes, scratchiness, a feeling that there's something in the eye, excessive tearing or difficulty wearing contact lenses. Over-the-counter eye drops called artificial tears usually help, but if dry eye persists, see an opthalmologist for an evaluation.

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