Chemical Eye Injuries

Eye Health

By Dr S.S. Gill

Ipoh Echo’s EYE HEALTH series continues with Consultant Eye Surgeon Dr S.S. GILL talking to us about EMERGENCY EYE CARE when chemicals get into the eyes.

Chemicals are dangerous to the eye and may result in serious eye injuries should it get into the eye. This is especially so if the eye is not treated correctly fast enough because it can cause chemical burns to the eye. IMMEDIATE appropriate emergency treatment before you are able to seek professional medical help is absolutely essential as it has a great bearing on the final outcome of the chemical eye injury.

Basically, household chemicals are divided into alkalis or acids. Detergents, bleaching agents, drain cleaners, oven cleaners and floor cleaners all contain ALKALI. These chemicals should be used with extreme caution. Take note that ALKALINE chemicals cause the MOST SERIOUS EYE DAMAGE and can easily cause blindness.

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 sulphuric 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, often due to an inexperienced person “jump-starting” a car with the terminals mistakenly reversed. The eye injuries sustained can be serious, even to the point that it may lead to serious eye injuries and visual loss.

Regardless of the chemical involved, if the eyes are not treated immediately in a proper way, it may lead to corneal burns, ulcers and opacification that may cause permanent blindness.


Should a chemical get into your eye, IMMEDIATELY place your eye in 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 so that the water flushes out all traces of chemical and you can roll your eyeballs around so that the water gets to every area of the eyeball. 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 often cause even more serious eye damage when compared to acids!

In summary, to prevent any form of eye injury by chemicals, ALWAYS WEAR PROTECTIVE GOGGLES even for seemingly innocent household chores that involve the handling of chemicals. Prevention is surely better than cure. Should chemical accidentally get into your eyes, immediately flush them continuously for at least 20 minutes with running water and seek immediate medical attention without delay!

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