ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (April 14, 2014) -- Soldiers whose eyes are injured during combat have a better chance of returning to duty with their vision intact due to some revisions in the Army's first-aid kit.
The rigid eye shield was added as a component to the Army's "Individual First-Aid Kit II," which was distributed to the first Army units in the fall of 2013.
When properly worn, the shields can protect a service member's eye from further damage after an initial eye injury is sustained during combat operations.
"We've learned a lot about eye injuries in the field over the past decade," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Autrey, program manager of the Tri-Service Vision Conservation and Readiness Program at the U.S. Army Public Health Command. "We know more about the common causes, prevention measures and effective techniques for treatment."
In the past, service members may have treated eye injuries by wrapping the head with a bandage and applying pressure to the wounded eye.
But this method of preserving the eye is not optimal eye care, according to Autrey.
"A person's eye can become further damaged if too much pressure is applied," he said.
That's why Army first-aid kits are now including the eye shields.
"If a service member's eye is injured during combat, the rigid eye shield should be placed over the injured eye and secured with tape," said Cmdr. Kevin McGowan, Navy program manager in the TSCVRP who assists Autrey with surveillance of eye injuries to military members.
"This action will ensure that no other foreign debris comes into contact with the eye, and will preserve the eye until a medical expert can give it further attention."
According to data from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, during the years 2001 to 2010, between five and 22 percent of all Department of Defense injuries were a result of ocular trauma.
"It's a worthy investment to add the eye shields to first-aid kits," said Autrey.
The USAPHC's TSVCRP incorporated instructions on how to use the new eye shield in its recent two-day Vision Conservation and Readiness Course.
Autrey said the new eye shields are meant as a supplement to current Military Combat Eye Protection, not as a substitute for proper eye protection.
"Research still shows that most eye injuries can be prevented by wearing eye protection from the Authorized Protective Eyewear List," said Autrey.
Autrey said that it has been rewarding to collaborate with the DOD on getting the word out about the new eye shields being incorporated into Army first-aid kits. He knows that that the shields will be of utmost importance to troops who are deployed downrange.
"Of all the body's senses, most people value their sense of sight the most," said Autrey. "That's why we're not only looking for innovative ways to preserve life and limb, but specifically, eyesight."
The eye shields should be a part of all DOD joint-service first-aid kits by the fall of 2014.