Flight attendant Trish Sullivant was on a layover in San Jose, Calif., when she decided to squeeze in some arm exercises between flights with her new resistance band. As she began doing bicep curls, the band suddenly snapped back, hitting her directly in the eye. The impact caused her to pass out for a few moments.
The initial diagnosis looked good. Physicians at a local emergency room thought she had just scratched the front part of her eye. So, she caught the next flight home to her family in Utah.
But during the flight home, Sullivant’s eye began to hurt. Opening and closing her eyelid had become difficult. "I was seeing black dots and white clouds in my field of vision," she said. What she didn’t know was that she was experiencing the first signs of a serious, blinding eye injury, a detached retina.
A detached retina occurs when the retina, the light sensitive tissue, separates from the back of the eye. When detached, the cells of the retina will begin to die. This can lead to irreversible blindness, so the retina needs to be reattached quickly by an ophthalmologist, a physician who specializes in medical and surgical eye care.
By the time she saw ophthalmologist Jeff Pettey, MD, it was too late. The damage could not be repaired. She's now blind in one eye.
What To Do in an Eye Emergency
Dr. Pettey said it's common for people to sustain serious eye injuries from recoiling exercise bands and bungee cords. The metal rods at the ends of bungee cords can cause even more damage when they snap back. While not every eye injury requires emergency treatment, Dr. Pettey wants people to know that serious eye injuries are not always immediately obvious. Each eye injury is different, but there are some things to keep in mind as you assess your situation.
"Trauma is the most frequent cause of eye emergencies, but any unexplained loss of vision, especially coupled with pain, means it's time to seek help," Dr. Pettey said.
If you experience any of these signs, get medical help right away:
- Obvious pain or trouble seeing
- Cut or torn eyelid
- One eye does not move as well as the other
- One eye sticks out compared with the other
- The pupil develops an unusual size or shape
- Blood in the clear part of the eye
- Something gets stuck under the eyelid and can’t be easily removed
- Seeing flashes of light or “floaters” in your vision
- Delaying medical attention can make the damage worse and can result in permanent vision loss or blindness.
Sullivant has managed to master driving and can still read. But she faces daily challenges, constant eye fatigue and a heightened awareness of the necessity of protecting her seeing eye.
"Now I'm so much more educated and I'm all about eye protection," Sullivant said. "So are my kids."