It's usually better to be safe than sorry when you get injured, but when it comes to common eye injuries and conditions, many people may be a little too cautious.

That's the conclusion of investigators at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Howard University Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, whose research was published online by JAMA Ophthalmology.

The researchers set out to determine the causes of visits to hospital emergency departments across the country for eye-related problems, to help policymakers allocate resources more effectively.

Data from the U.S. Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) were used to analyze emergency department (ED) visits over a six-year period (2006-2011). All patients with eye problems arriving at EDs across the country were eligible for inclusion in the analysis, regardless of age or other factors.

Data from nearly 12 million ED visits revealed:

  • Males accounted for 54.2 percent of ED visits for eye-related injuries or problems.
  • Fewer than half of eye-related ED visits (41.2 percent) were for problems that needed immediate care ("emergent" conditions).
  • Slightly more (44.3 percent) were for problems that did not require immediate care ("non-emergent" conditions).
  • For 14.5 percent of the visits, it was not possible for the researchers to determine if the condition was emergent or non-emergent.
  • Among emergent conditions seen, the leading diagnoses were corneal abrasion (13.7 percent) and foreign body in the external eye (7.5 percent). Among the non-emergent conditions, the leading diagnoses were conjunctivitis (28 percent), styes (3.8 percent) and subconjunctival hemorrhage (3 percent).
  • ED visits for eye injuries and other emergent eye conditions were significantly more likely to occur among males, patients in the highest income quartile, older patients, and patients with private insurance.
  • The average annual (inflation-adjusted) charges for all eye-related emergency department visits totaled $2 billion.

The study authors concluded that: 1) across the U.S., non-emergent conditions accounted for almost half of all eye-related visits to hospital emergency departments; and 2) interventions to facilitate management of these non-emergent eye conditions outside the ED could make medical resources more available for truly emergent conditions of all types.

Source: All About Vision