Preventing and Treating Chemical Eye Burns

Chemical eye burns can occur when the eye comes into contact with solid, liquid or vaporous chemicals. Although many burns result in only minor discomfort, every chemical exposure or burn should be taken seriously. The severity of the burn depends on the chemical, as well as exposure time and how the injury is treated. Fortunately, the vast majority of burns are treatable and cause only temporary discomfort and pain.

To help you take precautions, we have compiled some essential steps to managing and treating chemical eye burns.

What are the 3 Types of Chemical Eye Burns?

Chemical eye burns fall into three categories based on acidic and alkaline level, measured in pH. The pH scale ranges from 0-14 and indicates how acidic or basic a chemical substance is. Neutral substances have a pH of 7; the pH of healthy tears is 7.5. The three different chemical eye burns are:

Alkali Burns are the most dangerous. These burns involve high pH chemicals that are powerful enough to penetrate the eye. Severe damage is possible and can lead to conditions like cataracts and glaucoma, and may even cause vision loss.

Acid Burns have a lower pH than alkali burns but are still dangerous. These burns aren’t able to penetrate the eye, but can still cause significant damage to the cornea and cause vision loss.

Irritations are neutral in pH and cause minor damage and side effects.

What are the Symptoms of Chemical Eye Burns?

Vision loss is a key indicator of a severe chemical eye burn. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Eye redness
  • Eye irritation
  • Eye pain
  • Swelling of the eye
  • Blurred vision
  • Inability to open the eye

Chemicals That Cause Eye Burns

Chemical eye burns can occur when the eye comes into contact with solid, liquid or vaporous chemicals. The most common chemicals include:

  • Ammonia, bleach, toilet bowl cleaner, and drain cleaner
  • Vinegar, glass polish and oven cleaner
  • Car battery fluid and gasoline
  • Chemicals in cement and plaster
  • Products that remove rust
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Fireworks
  • Pesticides and fertilizer

What to Do if Dangerous Chemicals Get in Your Eyes

The most important thing to do when you experiencing a chemical eye burn is to flush it out. A special chemical eye wash station is the best way to do this, however if the burn is experienced at home, tap water is a viable solution. To treat a chemical eye burn, follow these tips:

Flush your eye with water. Use clean, lukewarm tap water to rinse your eye for at least 20 minutes. You can choose one of these options:

  • Get in the shower and gently stream the water over your affected eye. Hold the eyelids open.
  • Put your head down and turn it to the side. Then hold the eyelids of your affected eye open under a running faucet.

Wash your hands with soap and water. After the chemical is flushed out, thoroughly rinse your hands to be sure no residual chemical is left on them.

Mild chemical eye burns often heal within a few days. If discomfort continues, seek immediate medical care. Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Antibiotic medicine to prevent infection caused by bacteria. This may be given as an eye drop or ointment.
  • Pain medicine to decrease the pain. This medicine may be given as an eye drop or pill.
  • Cycloplegic medicine dilates your pupil and relaxes your eye muscles to help decrease discomfort.
  • Steroids may be given to reduce inflammation.

In more severe conditions, surgery may be necessary:

  • Debridement removes any damaged tissue in your eye to decrease inflammation and help your eye heal.
  • Tenoplasty rebuilds damaged parts of your eyeball and restores the surface of your eye.
  • Tissue grafting replaces damaged tissue in your eye.
  • Transplant replaces your damaged cornea or other parts of your eye.

During treatment and recovery, refrain from the following:

  • Don’t rub the eye — this may cause more damage.
  • Don’t put anything except water or contact lens rinsed in saline in the eye. Don’t use eye drops unless instructed by your doctor.
  • Don’t rub or apply pressure to the eye.

What Precautions Should I Take?

Reduce the risk of a chemical eye burn by taking precautions. These include:

  • Always wear protective eye wear, such as goggles that fit closely around your eyes. Use safety glasses if the risk of splash is low or if the liquid is non-toxic. Use safety goggles when working with highly toxic chemicals and substances.
  • Do not touch your eyes when you work with chemicals.
  • Follow the instructions on the container when you use chemicals that may hurt your eyes.
  • Create an action plan in case you or someone gets burned. Know where the best water or liquid source is located for rinsing your eyes.

If you’re concerned about possible long-term damage caused from any chemical eye burn or eye injury, get in contact with Advanced Eye Medical today.