Even when eye injuries increased during the pandemic, they did not reach pre-pandemic levels. Image courtesy of Paul Ajamian, OD.

Even when eye injuries increased during the pandemic, they did not reach pre-pandemic levels. Image courtesy of Paul Ajamian, OD. Click image to enlarge.

Due to COVID-19, in-person outpatient visits were limited in 2020—by as much as 60%—and there was a 40% decline in emergency department (ED) visits. Eye-related ED visits declined as well throughout the United States and globally, prompting this current study to compare the estimated number and characteristics of eye injuries in 2020 with statistics from 2011 through 2019.

Overall, the estimated incidence of ED eye injuries was significantly lower in 2020 (152,957) than from 2011 to 2019 (194,142), but the incidence of severe injuries, including ruptured globes, hyphemas and lacerations increased during the pandemic.

Monthly trends in eye injuries between 2011 and 2019 were consistent with previous studies with a higher estimated number of injuries in the summer months.

“In 2020, however, there was a decline in the estimated monthly number of injuries in the months of March and April, coinciding with the institution of stay-at-home orders in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors noted in their study. “While there was a rebound in eye injuries in the summer months of 2020, they did not return to pre-pandemic levels.”

Differences in age, injury location, diagnosis and disposition were detected between eye injuries in 2020 and those in pre-pandemic years, the authors noted. When it came to ocular trauma injuries, changes in living and work environments due to stay-at-home orders likely played a role.

“A rise in intimate partner violence associated with a higher risk of severe ocular trauma, as well as an increase in home-improvement projects during the pandemic may have resulted in an increase in the overall number of severe eye injuries,” the authors explained in their study. “There was also a greater proportion of cases that were treated but transferred to other facilities, possibly due to decreased ED and hospital capacities for non-COVID-related patients.”

Halawa OA, Friedman DS, Roldan AM, et al. Changing trends in ocular trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA. Br J Ophthalmol. August 20, 2021. [Epub ahead of print].