Can Heavy Lifting Result in a Detached Retina?

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Musculoskeletal injuries, such as strains and sprains to the lower back, shoulders, and upper limbs, are common in workers who lift heavy objects on a regular basis. However, lifting, pushing, or pulling heavy objects can also result in detached retinas and cause other types of eye damage. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) funded a four-year study that examined the link between heavy lifting and retinal detachment, which occurs when the retina is pulled away from the blood vessels that provides oxygen and nutrients to the eye. In some cases, a detached retina can lead to a permanent loss of vision. The study suggests that heavy lifting increases pressure in the eye, which can cause retinal cells to be torn from their capillary bed. Researchers suggest steps workers can take to prevent this type of injury from occurring.

What are the Highlights of the Study?

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Lowell surveyed 615 participants, 200 of whom had a retinal detachment or tear, as well as 415 healthy control participants. Each participant answered basic questions about their overall health, vision, and physical exertion. The participants who regularly lifted 30 pounds or more at work were 1.8 times more likely to suffer a retinal detachment or tear compared to those who did not have to lift heavy objects on a regular basis. Other factors that increased the risk of retinal detachment included age, gender, body mass index, myopia, family history, and cataract surgery. However, the biggest takeaway from the study is the importance of safe lifting habits. These can protect workers’ backs, shoulders, upper limbs, and eyes. The following are additional highlights from the study:

  • Reducing lifting can lower the risk of retinal detachment
  • There was a peak in retinal detachment among participants who were between the ages of 40 and 65
  • Participants with myopia were three times more likely to experience retinal detachment or tears
  • Men were more likely to develop retinal detachment compared to women
  • Retinal detachments were more likely to occur in people who had family members who suffered the same injury
  • Participants who had cataract surgery were more likely to experience retinal detachment in the same eye

What are Common Symptoms of Retinal Detachment?

Symptoms of retinal detachment can range from minor to more severe. In some cases, if only a small part of the retina has become detached, someone may not experience any symptoms at all. The following are common symptoms that patients may experience if their retina has become detached:

  • Gray or black specks appearing in the field of vision, also known as floaters
  • Dramatic increase in the number of floaters
  • Flashes of light in one or both eyes
  • Feeling of heaviness in the eye
  • Appearance of a dark shadow, or what looks like a curtain on the sides, or in the middle of the field of vision
  • Central visual loss

Symptoms of rental detachment tend progress quickly, so it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should contact their eye doctor and make an emergency appointment. If an eye doctor cannot see the person right away, they should go to the closest emergency room for medical treatment. Detached retinas can be very dangerous. If a retina becomes detached from its blood supply, a person can lose sight in the eye permanently.

Treatment Options for a Detached Retina

Fortunately, treatment for retinal detachments is usually successful, particularly if the condition is caught early. In some cases, a follow-up procedure may be necessary if the retina detaches again, but treatment is successful for nine out of 10 patients. Depending on the extent of the injury and the type of retinal detachment, an eye doctor may recommend the following treatment options:

  • Cryopexy (freezing treatment): An eye doctor can seal any tears or breaks in the retina using a freezing probe or medical laser. During treatment, a numbing medication will be used to ensure that the patient is comfortable. The eye doctor will touch the white of the eye closest to the tear. The cold probe forms a scar around the tear and helps keep the retina in place. The patient must avoid heavy lifting until the eye heals completely.
  • Photocoagulation (laser surgery): The eye doctor will use a medical laser inside the eye and make small burns around the tear. This will create scarring that will help hold the retina in place. During the procedure, the eye doctor will shine the laser through the pupil to seal the retinal tear. Eye drops can help prevent swelling after the procedure. The patient should not lift heavy objects while the eye is healing.
  • Pneumatic retinopexy: This procedure involves injecting a small air bubble into the eye, which pushes the retina back into place. The eye doctor can then use laser or freezing treatment to repair holes or tears. The patient can expect the following:
    – Numbing medicine is put into the eye so that the patient is comfortable during the procedure
    – A tiny needle is inserted into the eye to extract fluid
    – A small amount of air is injected into the eye
    – Laser or freezing treatment repairs the retina
  • Scleral buckle surgery: In this procedure, the eye doctor will put a small band around the white part of the eye, which is called the sclera. The band puts pressure on the sides of the eye, helping the retina to reattach. After surgery, the band will stay on the eye permanently. The eye may be sore after the surgery; therefore, exercise, heavy lifting, and other strenuous activities should be avoided until the eye heals fully. The patient will need to wear a patch over the eye for a day or so.
  • Vitrectomy: This procedure is similar to pneumatic retinopexy, but it takes a bit longer, so it is performed in a hospital rather than the doctor’s office. Depending on the severity of the injury, the eye doctor may also need to perform the following procedures:
    – Laser or freeze treatment to repair the retina
    – Injection of an air bubble or a type of gas into the eye to help hold the retina in place
    – Replacement of the vitreous, the gel-like fluid that fills the eye, with a silicone oil or other clear fluid

How Can Someone Prevent a Work-Related Retinal Detachment Injury?

According to the lead author of the study, safe lifting practices are crucial to preventing workplace injuries, including those that affect the eyes. Workers who are at an increased risk for detached retina injuries should consult with an ophthalmologist about whether they should take additional precautions when lifting heavy objects at work. Based on the key findings of the study, researchers provided the following recommendations for employers and workers who must lift heavy objects:

  • Make lifting devices and automation options readily available so that workers do not need to manually lift heavy items
  • If machines or other automated lifting devices are not available, employees may request work that does not involve lifting, pulling, or pushing heavy objects
  • Retinal damage can also be caused by trauma to the head, a foreign body in the eye, or other eye damage; therefore, the use of goggles, hard hats, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) can protect workers from retinal detachment injuries.
  • Employees should undergo regular comprehensive dilated eye examinations, which can detect small retinal tears before they affect the vision
  • Ergonomic interventions can decrease the effort and force needed to perform a work task and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and eye injuries

Can an Employee Collect Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Eye Injuries?

If an employee experienced a detached retina injury at work, they may be eligible to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits. The compensation received will depend on the severity of the injury, but benefits may include medical expenses, lost wages, disability, and other costs associated with the injury. It is important that the worker notifies their employer as soon as possible about the injury so that they can initiate the claims process.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Workers with Eye Injuries

If you or someone you know suffered a detached retina injury after lifting heavy objects at work, it is in your best interest to contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. Our dedicated legal team will walk you through every step of the claims process and ensure that you receive the maximum financial benefits you deserve, including any surgical procedures you may need. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.