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Patient education: Chemical eye injury (The Basics)

Patient education: Chemical eye injury (The Basics)

What is a chemical eye injury? — When chemicals get in the eye, they can cause a chemical burn or injury. Different types of chemicals can harm the eye. Examples include chemicals found in cleaning products, bleach, hair dyes, and lawn fertilizers.

Some chemicals cause only mild or short-term symptoms. Other chemicals can cause severe damage, including scarring of the cornea (the clear tissue that covers the pupil and colored part of the eye (figure 1)) or vision loss. How mild or serious an injury is depends on:

The type of chemical

How long the chemical is in the eye

How far into the eye the chemical spreads

What are the symptoms of a chemical eye injury? — The symptoms can include:

Trouble seeing

Eye pain

Being unable to open the eye

Redness of the white part of the eye

Bright light bothering the eye

What should I do if I get a chemical in my eye? — Wash the chemical out of your eye right away with water. You can put your eye under a faucet or shower. Use cool water, and try to wash out your eye for 15 to 30 minutes. If you have contact lenses in, do not remove your lenses first. If the chemical is only in 1 eye, keep your other eye closed so the chemical doesn't flow into that eye. Do not rub or press on your eye.

After you wash out your eye, see a doctor or nurse right away if you have any symptoms such as pain or redness.

Will I need tests? — Most likely not. But your doctor or nurse will ask about your symptoms and the chemical that got in your eye, and do an exam.

How is a chemical eye injury treated? — The doctor or nurse will continue to wash the chemical out of your eye. Depending on the chemical, this can last hours.

Other treatments will likely include:

Pain-relieving eye drops

Eye drops or ointments to help prevent an infection

Depending on your injury, you might also need to see an eye specialist.

What can I do on my own? — You can:

Follow all instructions for using your eye drops or eye ointments.

Avoid pressing on or rubbing your eyes.

Follow instructions about wearing contacts. If you normally wear contacts, you might not be able to use them for a time. If so, wait until your regular eye doctor tells you that you can start wearing them again. Then, start with a new pair of contacts.

Wash your hands before and after you touch your eyes.

How can I help prevent a chemical eye injury?

Wear safety glasses or goggles when you work with harmful chemicals.

Keep cleaning supplies out of your child's reach.

Wash your hands after using chemicals that could hurt your eyes.

When should I call the doctor? — Call for advice if:

You have very bad eye pain.

You have pain in your eye every time you blink.

Your eyesight changes.

You have a cloudy spot or sore on the front of your eye.

You cannot tolerate bright lights.

You have blurred eyesight, tearing, or blinking.

You have signs of an eye infection, like swelling, redness, warmth, pain, or drainage from the eye.

More on this topic

Patient education: Corneal abrasion (The Basics)
Patient education: How to use eye medicines (The Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
Disclaimer: This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/know/clinical-effectiveness-terms. 2024© UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
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