Domestic Chemicals Harmful to the Eye

Dr S S Gill, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Hospital Fatimah Ipoh
Dr S S Gill, Consultant Ophthalmologist


Ipoh Echo’s EYE HEALTH series continues with Consultant Eye Surgeon Dr. S. S. GILL talking to us about PREVENTING EYE INJURIES.

common causes of visual loss. The leading causes of such eye injuries are sports accidents, fireworks, household chemicals, battery acid, and foreign bodies from workshops or factories.

Some household chemicals are dangerous to the eye and may result in serious eye injuries should they accidentally splash into the eye. This is especially so if the eye is not treated correctly and fast enough because they can cause chemical burns to the eye. Household chemicals may be divided into two varieties, i.e. alkalis or acids. BE EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS when handling these seemingly harmless chemicals.


Household products such as detergents, bleaching agents, drain cleaners, oven cleaners and floor cleaners contain ALKALI. These chemicals should be used with extreme caution. Take note that ALKALINE chemicals cause the WORST EYE DAMAGE and can cause blindness.

ACIDS at Home

The commonest acid around the home is vinegar. Some types of drain cleaners may actually be strong acids although most are alkaline. Always check the label. If you have an aquarium with fish, be careful when handling sulfuric acid if you use it to control the pH of the water. Interestingly, the leading cause of acid burns at home is an exploding car battery. This usually occurs when jump starting a car and the terminals have been mistakenly reversed. The eye injuries sustained can be serious, leading to blindness. If you are unsure how to jump-start a car, just do not attempt it.

The symptoms of a chemical burn depends on the substance splashed into the eyes, but may include stinging, a burning sensation, eye pain, tearing and redness. The eyelids will often swell. If not treated immediately in a proper way, it may lead to corneal burns, ulcers and opacification that may lead to blindness.


Should any of the above happen to you, the immediate treatment is to place your face under running water CONTINUOUSLY for 15 to 20 minutes and allow the water to flush out the harmful chemicals from your eyes. You may need to use your fingers to hold your eyelids apart but make sure there are no traces of chemical on your fingers. If there is no running water, any cool drink that you may have with you can be used to flush the eyes out. If you are near a swimming pool, then jumping into it may be a good idea provided you can swim!

NEVER judge the seriousness of your eye injury by the degree of pain. Alkaline chemicals don’t usually cause significant symptoms but they may cause even more serious eye damage compared to acids.

Eye health - Dr S.S. Gill - opthalmologist
Protective goggles

Tear Gas

Interestingly, people have asked me about the effect of tear gases used for riot control. The most commonly used agent is CS gas, which is a mild acid that is an irritant to skin, nose and eyes. It immediately causes severe tearing, which can last up to 30 minutes. If you have ever wondered why people carried salt with them, it is because salt is an alkaline agent and helps to neutralise acidic tear gas. More than the tear gas itself, it is the canisters that can cause serious eye injury should they hit a person’s eye.

In summary, to prevent any form of eye injury by chemicals, always wear protective goggles when handling them because prevention is better than cure. If chemicals get into your eyes, flush them continuously for 20 minutes with running water and seek immediate medical attention.

For more information, contact Gill Eye Specialist Centre at  05-5455582, email: or visit