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Chemical Eye Burns

What is a chemical eye burn?

A chemical eye burn is an injury to any part of your eye that is exposed to chemicals.

Which chemicals can cause an eye burn?

  • 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 are the signs and symptoms of a chemical eye burn?

The damage that is caused depends on the type of chemical that burned your eye. It also depends on the amount of chemical that came in contact with your eye and how long it was on your eye.

  • Blurry eyesight or loss of vision

  • Eye pain or pain when you look at light

  • Watery or red eye

  • Swollen or twitching eyelid

  • Cuts, bumps, or other damage on your eye

  • Large pupil

  • Cloudy eye tissue

How is a chemical eye burn diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your symptoms and when they started. He will ask what chemicals you used at the time of your burn. After your eye is fully rinsed, he will test your vision and eye movements. You may also need any of the following tests:

  • Litmus paper test: This is also called a pH paper test. Your caregiver will put a small piece of paper on your lower lid to see if the chemical has been rinsed off your eye.

  • Slit-lamp test: This test uses a microscope to look into your eye and check for injury. It may also help your caregiver see if there are any chemicals left in your eye.

  • Visual acuity test: This test checks your vision and how well your eye moves.

  • Eye stain test: This test uses dye and blue light to show damage to your eye. It can also show fluid that is leaking from your eye.

  • Tonometry: This test measures the pressure inside your eye.

What should I do if I get chemicals in my eye?

Rinse your eye immediately. The sooner you begin to rinse your eye, the better your chances of healing.

  • Rinse your eye with a steady stream of water for at least 30 minutes . Use the cleanest water you can get to quickly. Never use other chemicals to rinse out your eye. Move your eyeball in all directions to make sure that all the parts are rinsed. If possible, continue to rinse out your eye with water until you reach the treatment center.

  • Remove clothing that may still contain chemicals. Do not take out your contact lenses.

  • Bring the container to show your caregiver, if possible. Do not bring the container if the chemical may burn you again.

How is a chemical eye burn treated?

Mild chemical eye burns that are treated quickly often heal within a few days.

  • Eye care: Your caregiver will continue to rinse your eye. He may then remove any remaining chemicals or other objects from your eye. He may give you artificial tears or an eye patch to protect your eye and help it heal.

  • Medicines:

    • Antibiotic medicine: This helps prevent infection caused by bacteria. It may be given as an eyedrop or ointment.

    • Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. This medicine may be given as an eyedrop or pill.

    • Cycloplegic medicine: This medicine dilates your pupil and relaxes your eye muscles to help decrease pain and twitching.

    • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.

  • Surgery:

    • Debridement: Caregivers remove any damaged tissue in your eye to decrease inflammation and help your eye heal.

    • Tenoplasty: Caregivers rebuild damaged parts of your eyeball and restore the surface of your eye.

    • Tissue grafting: Caregivers replace damaged tissue in your eye.

    • Transplant: Caregivers replace your damaged cornea or other parts of your eye.

What are the risks of a chemical eye burn?

The process of rinsing your eye can be painful. Steroid medicine may be harmful to your eye. You may get an eye infection. Surgery may cause permanent dry eyes. Your eye may have scars, cuts, or permanent damage. Your eyesight may become worse, or you may become blind. Without treatment, your eye may develop a cataract (clouding of the lens) or glaucoma (increased pressure). Your symptoms may get worse very quickly.

How can I prevent a chemical eye burn?

  • Always wear protective eyewear, such as goggles, that fit closely around your eyes.

  • 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.

  • Make a plan in case you or someone else gets burned. Know where the best water or liquid is located for rinsing your eyes. Check to see if your company has an eye wash station.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your eye keeps watering or feels dry.

  • Your pupil is larger than usual.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your eyesight is blurry or you lose vision.

  • You have cuts, bumps, or other damage on your eyeball.

  • Your eye becomes red or cloudy.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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