Back in October 2003, Thomas Cosma and his neighbor were clearing a fallen tree from his backyard in Stockholm, N.J. The neighbor was cutting the branches with a chainsaw, while Cosma was dragging away the debris.
Without warning, one of the branches whipped back at Cosma. It sliced the front of his right eye, causing a hyphema -- bleeding inside the eye. He says he didn't feel pain, but he was immediately unable to see.
"Of course, I wasn't wearing either my sunglasses or my goggles," Cosma says.
Cosma eventually required surgery at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary to repair his eye. On the night of his surgery, he says, he heard of at least two other eye injury operations slated for that same evening. One of his fellow patients had been hit in the eye with a paperclip. The other had been struck by a piece of flying metal while walking through Home Depot.
Cosma's experience is consistent with the 2008 Eye Injury Snapshot, a new survey released by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which reports that 45 percent of eye injuries occur at home. And while the upcoming Fourth of July weekend has many Americans concerned over fireworks-related eye injuries, research shows that more often than not, simple around-the-house activities are to blame.
What's worse, even though nearly 90 percent of eye injuries in the survey were classified as preventable with proper eyewear, more than three out of four of those injured were not wearing eyewear at the time of injury.
"Home sweet home is not home safe home," says Dr. Andrew Iwach, spokesman for the AAO.
Fortunately, Cosma's vision returned to normal after the surgery. Under the insistence of his daughters, he now wears one of two sets of goggles during his yard-work -- one that has tinted shades for sun protection, or the other, whichhas clear lenses for indoor work. Each cost him about $10 at a home and garden store.
Since the survey's findings, the AAO is now recommending that every household keep a pair of protective eyewear certified by the American National Standards Institute -- meaning that the glasses are strong enough to resist impact.
"If you don't have them available, the odds are you won't use them," says Iwach.
In addition to checking with doctors, the AAO also surveyed 801 American adults to get their impressions of eye injuries. Only 10 percent believed they were at a high risk.
"There is a disconnect between the perceptions of the public and what we're actually seeing," Iwach says.
Eye injuries are the second highest cause of visual impairment in the United States. Every year, more than 2.5 million eye injuries occur, causing 50,000 people to permanently lose vision.
In their survey, the AAO looked at 765 eye injuries reported by 775 doctors in a two-week period. Researchers found that several activities accounted for most of the at-home injuries:
Play or Sports
"One of the more common sports injuries is to be poked by a finger when playing basketball," says Dr. Matthew Gardiner, director of ophthalmology emergency services at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. The other typical sports injury includes the ball-to-the-eye, whether it be a baseball, golf ball, squash ball or racquetball.
As with most eye injuries, "a lot of these injuries are so easily preventable just by avoiding the activity or wearing eyewear," Gardiner says.