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Overview of Blunt Injuries to the Eye

By Kathryn Colby, MD, PhD, Louis Block Professor and Chair, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Science, University of Chicago School of Medicine

A blunt impact may damage the

  • Structures at the front of the eye (the eyelid, conjunctiva, sclera, cornea, iris, and lens)

  • Structures at the back of the eye (retina and optic nerve)

  • Structures surrounding the eye (see Black Eye and see Fractures of the Orbit)

Blunt impact can cause bruising (contusion) and cuts (lacerations) to the tissues of the eye. Bleeding in the back section of the eye (vitreous hemorrhage), tearing of the iris, displacement (dislocation) of the lens, and breaking (fracturing) the bones that surround the eye (orbital fracture) usually require a high energy (very forceful) impact.

If the impact was high energy, affected people tend to have obvious, severe eye injuries with many abnormalities. Examination by an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment—surgical and nonsurgical—of eye disorders) and treatment should occur as soon as possible. Injured eyes may be very swollen and difficult to open, but doctors need to open the eyes to examine them and determine what injuries will need treatment. The eyes almost always can be opened gently, although instruments may be needed to do so.