Toddlers face the highest risk of chemical eye burns of any age group, according to a new study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, which found that common household cleaners are most frequently to blame.
These findings, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, go against the logical assumption that adults working with chemicals on the job would be most at risk for such injuries.
According to researchers, chemical eye burns are actually most common among 1-year-olds and 2-year-olds. A 1-year-old child, for example, is twice as prone to these injuries as a 24-year-old—the adult age that showed the highest risk.
"These are terrible injuries; they occur most frequently in the smallest of children and they are entirely preventable," says study leader R. Sterling Haring, a PhD candidate in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Chemical burns are among the most critical of eye injuries, because they continue to sear into the eye after contact and can damage internal structures irreparably.
Haring says the most frequent injuries in the youngest age group are from alkaline agents, which are commonly found in cleaning materials. If not flushed out with water, alkaline agents cause more damage the longer they remain in the eye.
"Making household chemicals and cleaners inaccessible to young children is the best way to put an end to this," he says.
The researchers analyzed data from roughly 300 million emergency room visits to more than 900 U.S. hospitals. Between 2010 and 2013, there were more than 144,000 emergency room visits related to chemical eye burns nationwide.
Injuries most commonly occurred at home. They showed up more frequently in the South and among people on the bottom half of the income scale.
With young people, the injuries appeared to drop off substantially after children were old enough to understand the dangers, with a 7-year-old 13 times less likely than a 1-year-old to burn their eyes.
The study shows that risks do remain for working-age adults. When examining the injuries by decades of age instead of just single years, 20-29 years olds had the highest rates.