Chemical eye burns

Chemical eye burns arise if the eye was exposed to a solid, liquid or gas-based chemical. The seriousness of the burn is based on the type of chemical and the amount that enters the eye. Most cases of burns can be treated but must be taken seriously.

It is important to note that chemical eye burns are categorized based on the pH level. The pH scale ranges from 0-14 which indicates the acidity or alkalinity of a substance.

  • Alkali – these burns involve chemicals with elevated pH levels and considered dangerous. These chemicals are potent enough to infiltrate the eye and damage the interior components. In serious cases, it can result to the formation of cataracts, glaucoma or even blindness. The usual culprits include ammonia, oven cleaners, drain cleaners and fertilizers.
  • Acid – low pH burns are less serious but can still be dangerous. This type of burn will not penetrate the eye but can result to serious damage to the cornea that can cause vision loss. The chemicals include vinegar, battery acid and nail polish remover.
    chemical eye burns

    The loss of vision is an indication of serious chemical eye burns.

  • Irritant – these burns are caused by substances neutral in the pH level such as pepper spray and some household detergents

What are the indications?

The loss of vision is an indication of serious chemical eye burns. The other signs typically include:

  • Eye pain
  • Eye redness and irritation
  • Blurry vision
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Inability to keep the eye open
  • Sensation of a foreign object in the eye

Management of chemical eye burns

Regardless of the situation, a vital step to do if an individual is suspected with a chemical eye burn is to flush the chemical out of the eyes.

A specialized eye washing station is the ideal way to do this if available. Nevertheless, tap water is also a practical option.

When managing chemical eye burns, the following must be done:

  • Flush the affected eye with cool water for at least 15 minutes
  • While rinsing, use your fingers to keep the eye open as wide as possible and instruct the individual to roll his/her eyes for wider coverage
  • If the individual is wearing contact lenses, it should be removed.

In serious cases of chemical eye burns, bring the individual to the nearest emergency department or call for emergency assistance. While waiting for the emergency team to arrive, flush the eyes.

It is vital that the chemical responsible is identified. A burn caused by an alkali-based chemical must be assessed by a healthcare professional due to the potential for vision loss.

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on chemical eye burns is for learning purposes only. Learn to properly manage this type of eye injury by taking a standard first aid course with Calgary First Aid.

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