Chemical eye burns happen when the eye comes in direct contact with a solid, liquid or gaseous chemical. Generally, the severity of the burn will depend on the type of chemical and the amount that enters the eyes. Chemical burns have 3 categories based on the acidic or alkaline level which is measured in pH. The pH scale ranges from 0-14 and indicates the acidity of the chemical.
- Alkali burns are usually caused by high pH chemicals and highly dangerous. It can penetrate the eye and cause damage to the vital inner components. They can lead to the formation of cataracts and glaucoma and sometimes cause vision loss or blindness. The common alkali substances can be found in cleaning products such as drain cleaners, oven cleaners, plaster, cement and fertilizers.
- Acid burns has low pH but still dangerous. The burns cannot penetrate the eye but can cause injury to the cornea and loss of vision. Common acids include sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid and acetic acid. These chemicals can be found in glass polish, vinegar, nail polish remover and car battery.
- Irritations or burns are neutral in pH. Common household irritants include household detergents and pepper spray.
Symptoms of chemical eye burns
- Pain, redness and irritation of the eye
- Blurred vision
- Sensation of foreign objects in the eye
- Watery eyes
- Swelling or twitching eyelid
- Large pupil
- Cloudy eye tissues
- Immediately after the injury, rinse the affected eye under running water, in a slow shower or a container filled with clean water. Position the face in a way that the eye is down and to the side. Avoid spraying a strong stream of water into the affected eye.
- Flush the affected eye using lukewarm water for at least 15-30 minutes. For a severe burn, continue flushing the eye until help arrives. Keep the eye open as wide as possible.
- Wash the hands of the affected person thoroughly to ensure that no chemical remains in the hands.
- Flush the eye to remove the contact lenses. If the lenses do not come out, remove them gently after flushing.
- Avoid rubbing the eyes and cover the eyes with a bandage. Wear sunglasses to lessen sensitivity to light.
- Continue flushing the eye using saline solution until the pH returns to normal.
- Apply anesthetic medications in the eye to lessen the discomfort due to flushing.
- Apply the prescribed artificial tears or an eye patch to protect the eye and promote fast healing of the condition.
- Take the prescribed antibiotic medications to prevent infections due to bacteria.
The details posted on this page on chemical eye burns is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage chemical eye burns, enroll in a first aid course with one of our training providers.