Disaster Eye Care: Protection + Treatment + Trauma

**NOTE**  This is a GUEST POST from Dr. Ballon.  Dr. Ballon has been in private practice for 20 years since completing his residency at Duke University Eye Center.  He is President/CEO of The Harman Eye Clinic, in Arlington, Washington.
 

For those of us who are blessed with good vision, ultraviolet (UV) and safety protection are the main issues.  A good wide brimmed hat cuts out 50% of UV rays, and even may help block tree branches from hitting your face at dusk.  Wrap around sunglasses can help provide further protection, or glasses with a wide temple to block sun from the side.  I used to practice ophthalmology in Hawaii before moving back to Washington state, and a growth on the surface of the cornea called pterygium or “surfers eye” was a very common condition due to glaring sun reflected off the water.  Native Americans in the plains used a feather to block the sun from the side.  Please be aware that eagle feathers are protected, so other feathers must be used in a survival situation.

 

Creek with Primitive Style 'Sun Visor'

Creek with Primitive Style 'Sun Visor'

 

For those who wear corrective lenses, shatter resistant lenses are preferred.  Polycarbonate can withstand a 22 caliber bullet fired from 15 feet, but the plastic is soft unless coated with a scratch resistant coating.  Glass lenses are much more scratch resistant, but are heavier.  Both polycarbonate and glass have UV protection.  Photochromic lenses (that turn dark in UV light) are UV protecting, and come in plastic (transitions) and glass (photogrey) brands.  A sturdy frame is important in a disaster situation.  It is important to avoid frames with a nylon string (rimless on the bottom frames) which although stylish, may break and be difficult to repair.  Polaroid sunglasses can improve vision when on the water for fishing, but may interfere with use of LCD devices such as GPS locators.  For contact lens patients, I always suggest back-up glasses.  It is not advisable to make homemade saline solutions due to the risk of acanthamoeba infection.

Laser vision correction is great for those who are good candidates; LASIK may be slightly better in a disaster situation, because PRK (advanced surface ablation) makes the eyes more susceptible to UV light which may cause corneal haze or regression.

Glaucoma is a common eye disease where pressure damges the optic nerves causing tunnel vision.  A cold LASER called SLT is equally effective as eyedrops in lowering the eye pressure and may be an advantage if medicine is difficult to obtain.  It is a good idea to have a list of medications and allergies, and if possible spare medications to keep as rotating stock in a BUG out bag.

A  stye  (blocked oil gland) can be painful, and is best treated with hot compresses.  You can make your own hot compress with a clean sock or bandana and a few smooth stones or river rocks that are gently heated when the campfire dies down.  Be careful to test them on the back of your hand before placing them in the sock and near your closed eyelids.  When the stye drains, there may be a lot of mucous in the eyes.  You can boil water in a stainless water bottle or canteen, let it cool fully then use it to rinse the eyes.  A 1/2 tsp of salt dissolved in the water may be more soothing, but is not essential.

River Rock + Stainless Cup + Bandana

River Rock + Stainless Cup + Bandana

Heated River Rock + Bandana

Heated River Rock + Bandana

Eye Compress made from Heated River Rock wrapped in Bandana

Eye Compress made from Heated River Rock wrapped in Bandana

 

Corneal foreign body may occur when sawing or chopping wood.  If the foreign body is superficial, you may wash your hands and grasp the lashes of the upper eyelid and pull it down over the lower lid.  If it is lodged inside the upper eyelid it may brush off.  If it does not seek the care of an eye care professional.

Quick tip:  Establish a professional relationship with an eye care provider.  If you have an eye problem after hours, the emergency department is usually not very helpful.  In a disaster, the ER may be overwhelmed and if you can call the eye doctor’s office directly and see the doctor on call, you can save time and money.

Age related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in adults over age 70.  Lutein is a key factor thought to help prevent this condition.  Green leafy vegetables are a good source of lutein.  Dandelion is universally recognizable and may be a good source of nutrition in a pinch!  One cup of green tea is like a serving of vegetables.  Green tea in teabags is light weight and has vitamin C, lutein and other antioxidants.  You can even use it make an eye pad compress after it cools.

For penetrating corneal injuries or severe eye trauma, it is important to see an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon).  In the field you can make a temporary eye shield to protect the eye with a half of a plastic cup and duct tape.

 

Paper Cup Eye Shield

Paper Cup Eye Shield

 

Here is also another Eye Shield made from a Stainless Cup.

 

Eye Shield made from Stainless Cup and Tape

Eye Shield made from Stainless Cup and Tape

 

**NOTE**  This is a GUEST POST from Dr. Ballon.  Dr. Ballon has been in private practice for 20 years since completing his residency at Duke University Eye Center.  He is President/CEO of The Harman Eye Clinic, in Arlington, Washington.  Web-site: http://www.20better.com

 

Comments

  1. Creek Stewart says:

    That stainless cup that Bruce used in this article is my favorite mug of all time. I keep one just like it (GSI Outdoor Brand) nested on the bottom of my Nalgene at all times. I use it like crazy!

  2. This post is great! I was on a 2 day hike once and got something in my eye and ended up having to completely cancel the trip because I couldn’t deal with it properly in the field. A mirror would have been very useful. You just don’t realize how important these issues are until you are faced with them in the back-country. Thanks Dr. Ballon for a very informative post!

  3. Good post. As a contact lens wearer I was wondering about this.

  4. Aaron Steele says:

    Great post! Eye saftey is one of those things alot of people don't think of when going out in the bush. I always wear saftey glasses or tinted saftey glasses in the woods, I would feel naked with out them.

  5. Hi, everything is going fine here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, that’s genuinely fine, keep up writing.

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