6 Most Frequent Eye Injuries

Dr. Russel Lazarus, September 2, 2021

The main concern with any eye injury is whether the person’s vision has been permanently, or even temporarily, damaged.

Note: This information does not replace an eye exam from a doctor. For any eye injury, we recommend contacting the nearest eye doctor or ER department.

Eye Injuries

The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that over 2.5 million eye injuries occur every year, globally. Of these eye injuries, 90% could have been prevented with protective eyewear.

Eye injuries can occur from a wide range of activities, including playing with your pet, cleaning the house or just on the sports field, and lead to many different types of emergencies.

The only way to identify any vision loss or eye damage from an eye injury is through an eye examination.

Eye injuries can’t always be prevented, but wearing eye protection while engaging in certain activities, such as mowing the lawn, cutting wood and playing sports can help to protect the eyes from damage.

Below are the 6 most frequent causes of eye injuries:

1. Cut or scratch on the eyelid 

If you have children or own a pet, you may be familiar with the grabbing or clawing they are capable of!

Babies and toddlers are constantly seeking to touch, grab, and explore the faces of the people they love most. Pets are also capable of scratching their beloved owners when they are held and cuddled close to the face. In these situations, our reflexes cause us to shut our eyes quickly to protect ourselves from injury.

While this important reflex protects our sensitive eyes, it also puts our eyelids at risk and can result in a cut or scratch on the eyelid.

Small cuts can heal with topical medication, but deep cuts or ones that go through the edge of the eyelid require immediate medical attention.

2. Bruise of the eyelids

A bruise on the eyelid is most often called a “black eye”. 

This can result from blunt force trauma to the eye, like getting punched in the eye or hit by a ball during a sports activity.

The swelling and dark bruising from a black eye usually gets worse before it gets better.

After a few days, the black color will slowly turn purple and green until it loses its color altogether, this generally takes around 2 to 3 weeks.

3. Subconjunctival hemorrhage

A subconjunctival hemorrhage is a flame-shaped bleeding of the white part (sclera) of the eyeball. It is most often caused by a scratch to the sclera and gives the eye a bright red appearance.

The sclera usually heals on its own within 2 to 3 weeks.

If you have sustained an eye injury, head to the nearest emergency room for initial emergency treatment. 

In the event you cannot reach an emergency room, contact an eye doctor near you

SEE RELATED: First Aid for Eye Injuries

Find an eye doctor near you

4. Corneal abrasion

A corneal abrasion is the medical name for a corneal scratch.

Corneal abrasions are often caused by a poke in the eye by a child or pet, a branch of a tree or bush or even by a fingernail while removing a contact lens.

A corneal abrasion can also result when a foreign object, such as a grain of sand, gets stuck under the upper eyelid.

Corneal abrasions cause severe eye pain, excessive tearing and constant blinking. Sometimes the pain is so intense that the person can’t even manage to open their eye.

An eye exam is crucial in order to determine the extent of the abrasion.

The deeper the scratch, the higher the risk of eye infection.

Minor abrasions typically heal within 2 days, usually with the help of lubricating eye drops. More severe abrasions require immediate medical attention.

5. Acute hyphema

An acute hyphema develops from internal eye bleeding.

When this occurs, blood can be seen pooling in the space between the cornea and the iris (the colored part of the eye).

This condition is most often caused by blunt trauma to the eye, such as a punch to the eye or getting hit by an object flying at high speed, such as a baseball or hockey puck.

6. Punctured eyeball


A punctured eyeball is an eye that has been penetrated by a sharp object, such as a stick thrown up by a lawnmower or piece of metal by a lathe.

Common causes of eye trauma

The most common causes of eye traumas include:

  1. Direct impact: Getting hit in the eye with an object coming toward you at full force such as a ball or nerf gun bullet.
  2. Blunt force trauma: This occurs when a blunt object impacts the eye, most commonly as a result of a large ball, car accident or a punch to the eye
  3. Poke in the eye: This most often occurs during play, with objects such as toy swords or even an errant finger, and can damage the cornea or ocular surface and threaten vision loss.

Blowout fracture

Car accidents, sports injury or getting punched in the eye can lead to a fracture of the fragile bones that surround the eye, known as a blowout fracture.

Blowout fractures require immediate medical treatment, to prevent the muscle tissues from getting caught in the bone fragments— which can lead to infections, facial deformities and permanent double vision if not treated urgently.

In all eye injuries, it is always important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

While you head to the nearest eye doctor or emergency room, avoid touching or putting pressure on the eye and surrounding tissues. If the eye has become exposed, tape a foam drinking cup to the bony part surrounding the eye to protect the eye until it can be examined.

When to call an ambulance

For logistical reasons, as well as safety and speed, it is generally recommended to call an ambulance instead of driving to the hospital yourself.

The following emergencies require IMMEDIATE medical care:

  • Sudden eye pain or vision loss
  • A cut on the eyelid
  • Reduced movement in one eye
  • A difference in pupil size between both eyes
  • Inability to contract or dilate pupils
  • Irregularly shaped pupil
  • Blood in or around the eye
  • Foreign body embedded in the eye or under the eyelid

LEARN MORE: Guide to Eye Exams

Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you if you or your child suffer any type of eye injury.

The main concern with any eye injury is whether it has caused any degree of vision loss. 

The only way to be sure if an eye injury has caused any eye damage or vision loss is with a comprehensive eye exam.