First Aid for Common Eye Injuries

Half of the eye injuries happen around the home and nearly 40% result from sports or recreational activities. Everyday tasks such as cleaning, yard work, and home improvement can pose a risk to your eye health.

Key takeaways:
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    Rubbing or pressing on your eyes often makes injuries worse. Avoid the temptation to do so.
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    If you have foreign bodies or chemicals in the eye, rinse profusely with clean water, eyewash, or saline solution.
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    Eye injuries can increase the risk of infection since your eye is more vulnerable. Try to keep the eye area as clean as possible and wash your hands before touching the eye area.
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    Getting hit in the eye can cause vision-threatening complications, which may occur inside the eye or around it (such as retinal detachment or orbital fracture).

This article will discuss some first-aid tips you can implement for common eye injuries. You should seek medical attention immediately if the injury is serious. Signs of severe eye injury include:

  • Significant eye pain.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Double vision.
  • The eye does not move normally.
  • Pain when moving the eyes.
  • The eye bulges out or is sunken in.
  • The eye is swollen shut.
  • The cornea (the clear covering in front of the eye) appears cloudy.
  • Blood pooling behind the cornea.
  • Lacerations (cuts) on the eyelid.
  • The pupil size or shape looks different from the other eye.

Eye abrasion (scratch)

If you scratch your eye, here’s what to do:

Avoid rubbing or touching the eyes.

Rinse the eyes with clean water, saline, or eyewash to remove contaminants.

Remove any contact lenses.

Mild eye scratches can heal quickly within a day or two. However, you should still seek medical attention, especially if you got scratched by a pet, tree branch, or anything dirty. A scratch can open your eye up to infection, such as bacterial or fungal. Your eye doctor can prescribe medicated eye drops if needed.

Foreign bodies

Foreign bodies in the eye can include dust, sand, plant matter, metal, glass, and other particles. Here are some do’s and don’ts if you get a foreign body in your eye:

Do not rub your eye as it can cause the object to become embedded or scratch the eye.

Blinking and tearing are often enough to flush out the foreign body.

Use an eyewash, saline solution, or clean water to flush the eye for a few minutes.

If the object is on the inner eyelid or white part of the eye, you can use a damp cotton swab to remove it gently.

Do not use tweezers or other pointed objects to remove the foreign body.

If the particle remains in the eye, seek medical attention (particularly metal and glass objects, as they can become embedded).

If you removed the foreign body but still feel pain, you may have an abrasion that requires antibiotic drops or a bandage contact lens. Consult a medical professional for treatment.

Chemical burns

Many substances cause chemical eye injuries. In general, household chemicals can be acidic (low pH) or alkali (high pH). Alkali burns comprise 60% of chemical injuries.

Acidic agents include bleach, vinegar, car batteries, metal polisher, toilet bowl cleaners, and swimming pool cleaners.

Alkali agents include lye-based cleaners (such as drain cleaners), ammonia-based cleaners (such as glass cleaners), fertilizers, fireworks, and lime (in cement and plaster).

Alkali chemicals penetrate tissue faster and are more corrosive, while acids are less harmful. The severity of a chemical burn depends partially on how long the chemical stays in your eye, so the most critical first step is to rinse the eye with copious amounts of clean water for at least 15 to 20 minutes. If you wear contact lenses, remove them as soon as possible.

The goal is to wash out as much of the chemical and neutralize the pH as much as possible. Also, try not to keep the eyes closed, which may retain more chemicals in the eye. Seek medical attention immediately, as chemical injury can cause permanent scarring and vision loss.

Blunt trauma

Blunt trauma results from getting hit in the eye by a ball punched, or falling and hitting your eye. If your eye is swollen or painful, a cold compress can help relieve symptoms. However, be gentle and do not press on the eye. Also, avoid using frozen foods, which can cause infection.

Here are some signs that indicate more severe injury:

  • Black eye or bruising around the eye.
  • Worsening pain, particularly with eye movement.
  • Increased light sensitivity.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Double vision.
  • Blood in the eye.
  • Seeing dark spots, curtains, or flashes in your vision.
  • Eye protrudes out.

If you have these symptoms, seek medical attention promptly. Eye trauma can cause complications such as retinal detachment (tissue detachment inside the eye) and orbital fracture (broken bone around the eye socket). These issues may require surgery to repair.

Eye injuries can happen while doing common chores around the home, recreational activities, or at work. If you suffer an eye injury, know the signs of severe complications and seek medical attention promptly if you have symptoms. The best thing to do is to prevent injuries in the first place with proper eye protection, which include safety glasses, splash goggles, and face shields.