Eye Injuries and How to Manage Them

By Eyecare NG

Overview   |   Causes   |   Types   |  First Aid 

Overview

Eye injuries are damages done to the eye and its surrounding structures as a result of direct contact with fixed or mobile blunt or sharp objects, hot objects, chemical substances, sources of electrical power, and radiation (such as those from UV rays, X-rays and microwaves). These injuries range from minor ones to sight-threatening ones.

The eye is a very delicate organ. In the event of an injury, the action taken even within a few minutes can make the difference between recovery and blindness. Therefore, learning what to do in the case of an eye injury is important.

Common Causes 

  • Flying objects such as pieces of metals, wood and glass
  • Work tools and machines
  • Particles such as dust and sand
  • Chemicals
  • Heat
  • Biological substances such as blood and other body fluids
  • Radiations from lasers and sources that emit UV rays

Types

Cuts and scratches

Cuts and scratches on the cornea and eyelids are common eye injuries. They are usually caused by sharp objects (like fingernails, ball pen or sharpened pencil) and foreign bodies (like sand, dust particles, pieces of metal, wood or glass). A foreign body that gets into the eye and lodges under the upper eyelid can scratch the cornea while blinking or rubbing the eye.

Impact injuries

These are injuries that occur when solid objects such as work tools, sport equipment, the fist and elbow hit the eyes. You may either run into these objects or they may be moving or falling from a height before the impact occurs. These objects may cause the soft tissues around the eyes to get swollen. They could cause a fracture of the bones around the eye or even squash the eye.

Chemical burns

Splashing, spraying or spilling of chemicals can cause eye injuries ranging from mild irritation to serious damage to the structures of the eye. The severity and nature of the injuries are usually dependent on the constituents of the chemicals. Generally, alkaline solutions cause more harm to the eye than acidic solutions. Chemicals that can cause eye injuries include laboratory substances, industrial chemicals and household cleaning agents such as bleach and detergent.

Thermal burns

Thermal burns are caused by exposure of the eyes to heat. The severity of a burn is usually dependent on how hot the hazard is and how long the eyes are exposed to it. The most common cause of thermal burns include boiling water, hot oil, steam, open flames or direct exposure of the eyes to heat from an open oven or furnance. Heat burns can cause painful blisters, blurry vision and in worst cases cornea scarring.

Radiation injuries

These are injuries caused by exposure to radiation such as UV radiation, infrared radiation, visible light and ionizing radiation (e.g. X-ray). Radiation injuries are common in welders, people who work with fibre optics and lasers and those who spend a long time in the sun. Some conditions that may result from radiation injuries include welding flash burn, dry eyes, cataract and macular degeneration (damage to the part of the retina responsible for sharpest central vision).

Penetrating/perforating injuries

These are injuries that puncture or rupture the eyeball. They are usually caused by fast flying sharp objects such as knives, work tools and pieces of metals and glass. Penetrating injuries are sight-threatening and therefore require emergency care.

Signs and Symptoms

The following are symptoms and signs of eye injuries:

  • Red eye
  • Blood in the eye (a condition known as hyphema)
  • Tearing
  • Pain
  • Reduced vision
  • Torn or cut eyelids
  • Swollen and/or black eye
  • Foreign body sensation
  • A difference in the size and shape of the pupils
  • Protruding or bulging eyeball
  • Reduced movement of one eye compared to the other

First aid for eye injuries and when to seek help

Cuts and scratches on the eyelid

  • Apply pressure to stop bleeding.
  • Clean the wound with clean water and methylated spirit and dress it properly.
  • If the cut is deep, see a doctor.

Cuts and scratches on the cornea

  • Do not rub the eye.
  • Do not rinse with water.
  • Do not apply pressure to the eye.
  • Place a shield over the eye for protection and see an eye doctor immediately.

Chemical burns

  • Do not rub the eye
  • Flush the eye immediately with lots of clean water. If there is a running tap, place the eye under the tap and run water into the eye for between 15 to 20 minutes. This helps minimize damage to the eye.
  • Call or see an eye doctor immediately after rinsing the eye. Depending on the type of chemical you may or may not need further treatment.

Impact injuries

  • Apply cold compress to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Do not apply pressure to the eye.
  • See an eye care doctor to access the extent of the injury and treat appropriately.

Punctures/ruptured eyeball

  • Do not rinse with water.
  • Do not remove any object stuck in the eye.
  • Do not rub or apply pressure.
  • Do not take any medications or apply anything on the eye until you have seen an eye doctor who would recommend the best treatment.
  • Loosely place a shield over the eye and seek medical attention immediately. This is an emergency and the earlier you receive appropriate care, the lesser the risk of vision loss and blindness.

Burns due to heat or radiation

  • Rinse the eye with clean water to reduce the temperature.
  • Cold compress can also be applied.
  • Do not pop blisters if they appear.
  • Use pain relieving tablets for pains
  • See an eye care doctor.

With any of the above situations, do not assume that any eye injury is harmless. When in doubt, see an eye doctor immediately.

Related Resources

How to Prevent Eye Injuries