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Children Often Sustain Eye Injuries from Aerosol Spray Cans


Aerosol spray cans are responsible for hundreds of eye injuries each year, and children are most often the victims, according to a new study. Because the study only looked at emergency department visits, the actual number of children injured is likely higher.

Aerosol spray cans contain dangerous substances

Homes can be very dangerous places for children, given the number of household and garden chemicals and supplies, health and beauty products, and other items often kept on shelves, under sinks, or in closets within easy reach.

The danger associated with aerosol spray cans was the focus of investigation by researchers at Brown University, who looked at data from 100 emergency departments regarding eye injuries related to aerosol spray cans between 1997 and 2009. Carly Seidman, a fourth-year student at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown, led the study.

Analysis of the data showed that children ages 0 to 4 years were the most likely to be injured by aerosol spray cans. This age group was responsible for about 2,830 emergency department visits during the time period studied. An additional 3,097 children age 18 and younger also experienced eye injuries from the cans during the 12-year period. Thus, the 5,927 injured children accounted for more than half of the 10,765 people of all ages who sustained eye injuries.

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The researchers found that most cases of eye injuries were self-inflicted; that is, the individual inadvertently sprayed the substance into their eyes, although some cases involved cans that had burst. Spray paint cans were the most common product responsible for the eye injuries seen in this study, followed by health and beauty products such as hairspray, then cleaning products and insect sprays.

Eye injuries included significant irritation, scratches and bruises to the eyeball, and chemical burns. Pepper spray injuries were rarely seen, but in all cases the victim was a child.

Aerosol cans contain both the product and a pressurized propellant to deliver the product. In many cases, the product alone is hazardous, and the addition of the propellant, which is often a mixture of ignitable gases, adds to the danger. Aerosol spray cans are also dangerous because they can explode if punctured or exposed to open flames, sparks, or static electricity.

Many aerosol spray cans have brightly colored labels and the contents of some may smell good to children, and so they are tempted to play with the cans. The study’s authors suggested that warning labels on aerosol spray cans could be made larger and that pediatricians should counsel parents about proper storage.

Seidman advised parents to “make sure these products are kept out of the reach of children, and always remember eye safety.” More than 70 percent of aerosol spray can eye injuries occur in the home. Therefore, along with properly storing aerosol spray cans, parents can set an example by wearing goggles when handling them.

Brown University