Chemical Eye Burns
Chemical eye burns can cause serious damage to the eye, including loss of vision. Immediate treatment is critical to help minimize the effects. If you have a chemical eye injury, notify us as soon as possible so Dr. Cohlmia can meet you at the nearest emergency center.
Types of Chemical Eye Burns
If possible, it’s important for the doctor or ophthalmologist treating you to know what chemical your eye was exposed to. This will help them determine the potential impact to your eye tissue and the best ways to help you.
Chemical injuries can be caused by alkali, acid or neutral agents, all of which have a different pH. Alkalis account for 60% of chemical eye burns.
Examples of alkali substances include ammonia, lye, potassium hydroxide, lime and magnesium hydroxide. These chemicals are found in cleaners, fireworks and plaster or cement compounds.
Example of acid substances include sulfuric acid, hydrofluoric acid, sulfurous acid, acetic acid and hydrochloric acid. These chemicals can be found in car batteries, bleach, vinegar and swimming pools.
First Aid for Chemical Eye Burns
For all chemical injuries, immediately irrigate the eye to minimize the eye’s contact with the substance. The longer a chemical is in your eye, the more damage it will cause, so it’s important to dilute the substance and wash away as much of it as possible.
Seek medical treatment right away and keep irrigating the eye until you arrive at the emergency room or until paramedics arrive to your location.
How to Irrigate an Eye
Since most chemical eye injuries happen in a work setting, there may be an emergency eyewash or shower station available with sterile isotonic saline solution. If so, follow the instructions posted at the eyewash station.
If you’re assisting someone with a chemical burn to their eyes at home or somewhere without an eyewash, start by washing your hands with soap and water. Do not use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, as they can further irritate the eyes.
Position the head upright and tilted toward the side of the affected eye. Pour the irrigating fluid from the nose outward, away from the affected eye. It may be necessary to cover the uninjured eye with a cup or shield to prevent chemical exposure.
If possible, use a sterile irrigating solution. Any non-toxic fluid can be used, however, such as saline or tap water.
It may be necessary to manually open the eyelids so the irrigation fluid can reach the eye. Have the person blink the affected eye and look around in all directions to ensure the entire eye is irrigated.
Medical Treatment for Chemical Eye Burns
An ophthalmologist or emergency room physician will ensure that irrigation continues until the eye’s pH returns to normal.
The doctor will examine the eye’s surface and the inside of the eyelid to determine their condition. Any substance embedded in the eyelid or eye tissue will be removed. Anesthetic eye drops may be given to ease discomfort from the eye irrigation and examination.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the burn. Drops may be given to dilate the pupil so the muscles of the iris, or colored part of the eye, will relax. Antibiotic or corticosteroid drops may also be given to help prevent infection, lubricate the eye and help with healing. After the initial treatment, pain is usually managed with oral pain medications.
For severe burns, additional eye drops or oral medications may be required. Follow-up with an ophthalmologist and even surgery may also be needed. Proper follow-up is important to preserve eyesight and prevent more serious complications, such as perforation of the eye, damage to the iris and cornea, or eyelid deformities.