But the researchers say that such injuries could be avoided if people would wear protective eyewear during activities that put them at high risk of eye injury.
The researchers estimated that, in 2002 and 2003, some 27,000 people went to the emergency department seeking treatment for injuries related to wearing glasses. More than 1,000 of these cases were admitted to the hospital for further treatment.
"We also found that injuries related to wearing glasses vary by age and gender," said Huiyun Xiang, a study co-author and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University.
For example, people 65 and older were much more likely than younger adults to fall and hit their head, thus causing a glasses-related injury. Sports-related eyeglass injuries were more common in children 17 and younger.
The researchers also found that injuries to the eyeball were much more prominent among people age 18 to 64, compared to children and older adults.
Xiang and his colleagues report their findings in a recent issue of the journal Ophthalmic Epidemiology. Xiang conducted the study with lead author Sara Sinclair, a research associate at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Columbus Children's Hospital, and Gary Smith, the Center's director.
The researchers defined glasses-related injuries as a traumatic event in which the glasses were directly involved in the injury and resulted in a visit to the emergency department. Cases in which a foreign body entered the eye while the person was wearing glasses were also included.
"Injuries related to eyeglasses represent a significant public health problem in all age groups, but eye injuries among working-age adults are one of the leading causes of blindness," said Xiang, who is also an investigator with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Columbus Children's Research Institute. Some 96 million people in the United States wear prescription glasses.
The researchers gathered data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which is run by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The NEISS provides data on injuries related to consumer products and sports activities treated in emergency departments in the United States. The NEISS database, which is updated daily, receives data from a network of 98 nationally representative hospitals.
The researchers weighted 642 cases of eyeglasses-related injuries to come up with national estimates. Based on the original number of cases, they estimated that 27,152 injuries related to wearing glasses were treated in emergency departments in the United States in 2002 and 2003.
Of these, 1,031 (3.8 percent) cases were estimated to result in admittance to the hospital for further treatment.
The researchers separated the cases into three age groups: children 17 and younger; working-age adults aged 18-64; and adults age 65 and older. They found that the cause of injury differed considerably by age group.
Falls were by far the greatest cause of glasses-related injuries in older adults, accounting for 90 percent of the injuries in this group. Falls were also the predominant cause of glasses-related injuries in the working-age group, accounting for just over a quarter (26.7 percent) of the injuries in this group.
Sports and recreation activities were the greatest sources of glasses-related injuries in children, and caused 36.6 percent of eye injuries in this group. Lacerations, or cuts, to the face, head or eyeball were the most common injury among all groups, accounting for about two-thirds (64.7 percent) of the overall glasses-related injuries. Contusions and abrasions were a distant second, making up about 20 percent of all injuries.
Older adults were nearly 30 percent more likely to injure their face and head than working-age adults. The working-age group was by far the most likely to directly injure an eyeball: 37 percent of working-age adults, compared to 13 percent of children and just below 7 percent of older adults, suffered eyeball injuries.
The researchers also found that as age increased, so did the number of women who suffered from glasses-related injuries - women 65 and older comprised nearly two-thirds (65.5 percent) of glasses-related injuries in that age group.
While face and head injuries were more common than eyeball injuries among both males and females, males had a higher percentage of eyeball injuries.
"Some 90 percent of eye injuries are preventable with better education and appropriate use of safety eyewear during activities with a high risk of eye injury," Sinclair said. "While it can be quite costly to put special prescription lenses into already expensive, yet safe, frames, working-age adults who work in hazardous areas may want to consider using protective safety goggles.
"For children who wear glasses, it's important that parents know that prescription eyeglasses aren't able to take the same kind of impact that sport-specific eyewear can," she continued. "These kinds of glasses are typically much more flexible and impact-resistant."
This study was supported in part by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Contact: Sara Sinclair, (614) 355-2769; Sinclais@ccri.net
Huiyun Xiang, (614) 355-2768; XiangH@pediatrics.ohio-state.edu
Written by Holly Wagner, (614) 292-8310; Wagner.firstname.lastname@example.org