Bungee Cords Can Cause Serious Eye Injury, Blindness, Doctors Warn

May 2, 2000 (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) -- Throw away your bungee cords and use ropes instead to tie down your gear when you're loading the top of the car for the family vacation or the trip back from the hardware store, say eye doctors who treat people with eye injuries.

Over a five-year period, eye trauma specialists at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia treated 67 patients with moderate-to-severe injuries to the eye from bungee cords -- elastic tie-down straps with J-shaped or S-shaped metal hooks at either end. These are the cords that parents always struggle with as they're trying to pack up the gear and head out of town.

The patients sustained injuries when the hooks either straightened out and lost their grip under heavier-than-normal loads, broke apart from the strap, or came loose when the load was being tied down. The hooks snapped back at the user, struck the eye, and, in some cases, inflicted injuries severe enough to cause them to lose all sight in the affected eye -- or even to lose the eye itself.

"We're proposing that these hooks be redesigned with a gated clip that would prevent the hook from becoming disengaged from the object it's secured to," says lead researcher Anthony J. Aldave, MD, senior ophthalmology resident at Wills Eye Hospital of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, in an interview with WebMD. "People have proposed this before, and, yes, it would cost a little more for the manufacturers to redesign these hooks. But the fact is that a simple modification could probably have prevented the vast majority of these injuries."

"I agree in general that a redesign would help, but what I advise my patients is: Just don't use a bungee cord, period. Just use a rope," Eugene S. Lit, MD, tells WebMD. Lit, the director of the eye trauma service at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, was not involved in the Philadelphia study, which was reported here Tuesday at an eye research meeting.

In the study, more than half of the patients who came into the emergency room for a bungee cord-sustained eye injury required hospitalization for treatment of the injuries, which included bleeding within the eye, lacerations to the eye, traumatic cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye as a result of the blow), and tearing or detachment of the retina from the back of the eye. The retina is the tissue lining the inside of the eye that acts as a screen on which images are captured and transmitted to the brain. Most of the damaged eyes had a mild-to-serious loss of vision, 15% had no useful vision, and three patients had injuries that were so severe that the eyes had to be surgically removed.

Aldave and colleagues say that the heavy elastic cords from which bungees are made create tremendous force when they recoil, particularly when they are stretched beyond their recommended limits, such as when the user is trying to secure a heavy or overly large load.

"We asked every single patient, 'How did this happen?' and three of the 67 said that the hook actually straightened out under the force of the load. A couple of them said the hooks became disengaged from the cord -- they just broke apart -- but in almost all of the cases, the hook backed off what it was secured to," Aldave tells WebMD.

The researchers propose that the hooks be redesigned to include a closed clip on at least one end, and preferably on both. "We think it's really the only way we can prevent the bulk of these injuries, because I don't think consumers are going to wear protective eyewear, especially if they're only hooking or unhooking the cord for a few seconds. Nobody is going to go inside and get the safety glasses, so we think that the responsibility lies with the manufacturers," Aldave tells WebMD.

Aldave and his colleagues also recommend that bungee cord manufacturers be required to post a warning label about the dangers and the need for eye protection when using the products.

Vital Information:

  • Bungee cords are elastic tie-down straps with hooks on the end and are often used for such things as tying luggage to the top of the car.
  • Researchers report that these cords may be dangerous if they snap back, causing serious eye injury.
  • In most cases, injuries result when the hook becomes unattached to what it was secured to, so researchers recommend a new design with a gated clip.