Eye Injuries at Work

Every work injury is difficult for the injured person, but some are more easily evaluated than others. A worker’s eye injury, short of blindness, can be one of the more difficult to quantify. When a person injures a hand, we can measure loss of grip or strength. When a person injures a knee, we can observe loss in its ability to bend or how it impacts the person’s gait. In contrast, an injured eye can be difficult to notice for the outside observer, and even the injured worker may not be fully aware as to how it affects them and their employability. While too complex an issue to entirely describe within the confines of this post, this post strives to shed some light on eye-related issues and provide some guidance on whether your injury is being fairly addressed by your employer.

            The “simpler” aspects of an eye injury under workers’ compensation law are described by loss of acuity and field of vision. If you get yearly examinations at an eye doctor, you have probably had your visual acuity assessed – it’s how well you can see and how near or far, with perfect being the “20/20 vision” possessed by people without glasses. Visual field is less commonly tested, but is also relatively straightforward. It is how much you can see as opposed to how well. The most common loss would be to peripheral vision, though you might also see a loss in central vision or in some other location if a particular part of the eye was injured.

            Loss of acuity and visual field can cause many problems in the workplace. Acuity can affect delicate work and reading. Visual field loss can make it more difficult to fully perceive your environment, limiting your ability to assess your work or potential workplace dangers. Either might necessitate medical restrictions to maintain your safety, and that of others, at work. If you have been released without restrictions and suffer from one of the above, it may be your injury is not being properly managed.

            Workers’ compensation law also provides for other potential injuries to the eye which are not so easily measured with a number. These can include light sensitivity, loss of color vision, reduction in the ability to see in the dark, and other impairments. An eye doctor can also assess these and factors and assign an impairment to them. If you think about how often during the day the light levels around you change, these factors can be as critical as the loss of acuity or vision field.

            Frequently, eye problems can also lead to other impairments for an injured worker that may not be limited to the eye itself. Your eye connects to your brain through major nerves and can cause adverse effects outside the eye when damaged. People with healthy eyes routinely develop headaches or fatigue from exposure to bright light, focusing on a computer screen, or reading too long. A serious eye injury might cause symptoms like these, or others, more easily, or even without particular stimulus. The effects may also be much more severe. Increased stress, fatigue, or headaches might be a sign your eye injury is more than “just” an eye injury – and all too commonly these effects are not addressed by a workers’ compensation doctor who is focused only on those simpler assessments.

            Eye injuries can also lead to less physical symptoms as a consequence of their delicate nature and importance to our lives. Most of us quickly shy away from any perceived impact to the eye and even small irritants can be painful. Something significantly damaging our eye can give rise post-traumatic stress disorder or other issues from the incident alone.

            Beyond what trauma may result from the event itself, we must also recognize the eye forms a major connection between us, the world, and other people that the rest of our body does not. If it lacks function or we have an impairment like extreme light sensitivity that isolates us from friends or family, we might develop depression. If we cannot see around us adequately, we might develop fear and anxiety from our lack of ability to perceive our environment. Whether the emotional trauma comes from the event or how we interact with others afterwards, the potential mental effects of a serious eye injury are not to be understated.

            Like all work injuries, there are many layers of complexity and it is important to get individual legal and medical advice. Some eye injuries may have limited effects and some might lead to effects outside the bounds of this post. What is important is you recognize there are many potential factors to consider and bring them to the attention of your attorney and doctor if you have them.