Chemical Burns to the Eye
This information has been prepared as a service to our patients. It is not meant to act as a substitute for individual medical advice for specific patients.
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Serious eye injuries could require immediate treatment or surgery to prevent permanent eye damage resulting in vision loss. However, minor surface scratches, on the other hand, may need only simple monitoring after an initial visit to the eye specialist to make sure complications such as eye infections do not occur.
This is a guide to common eye injuries, developed to help you determine the next immediate and appropriate step following an accident, especially if you are in an emergency situation. Remember also that common sense safety precautions such as wearing safety goggles or shatter proof glasses if you indulge in high velocity sports, or activities such as carpentry or mechanical work may be your best approach to preventing eye injuries altogether and maintaining healthy vision for a lifetime.
Chemical Burns to the Eye
Getting unexpectedly splashed or sprayed in the eye by substances other than clean, harmless water can be frightening and harmful. Some substances burn or sting but are fairly harmless in the long run, while others can cause serious injury. The basic makeup of the chemical involved makes all the difference, such as whether it is acidic or alkaline in composition.
As a general rule, acids can cause considerable redness and burning but can be washed out fairly easily.
Substances or chemicals that are basic (alkali) are much more serious but may not seem so because they do not cause as much immediate eye pain or redness as acids. Some examples of alkali substances are oven cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, bleach, hair dye, mortar, paint, whitewash and other household cleaners.
Chemical exposures and burns are usually caused by a splash of liquid getting in your eye. But they can be caused in other ways as well, such as by rubbing your eyes and transferring a chemical from your hands to your eyes or by getting sprayed in the eye by hair spray or other aerosols.
If you get splashed in the eye by a chemical, put your head under a steady stream of tap water for about 15 minutes or continuously flush tap or bottled water into the eye, whatever you can find if you do not have access to a tap or steady stream of water. Just let it run into your eye and down your face. Then call your eye doctor or an emergency room/urgent care center to see what is recommended for your eye injury. Tell the person on the phone exactly what kind of substance got into your eye and what you have done about it. If you get a chemical into the eye, please do not delay flushing the eye by setting out for the doctor’s office or emergency room. Remember to flush the eye first then proceed to the doctor’s office.
Depending on the substance, the effects of chemical exposures causing eye injuries can range from minor irritation and red eyes to very serious eye damage and even blindness. If you know your eye is at risk because it's extraordinarily red or blurry, then proceed immediately to your eye doctor or an emergency room or urgent care center after you have rinsed it with water.