Chemical eye burns can occur when the eye comes into contact with a solid, liquid, or gas chemical. The severity of the burn depends on the chemical, as well as the amount that comes into contact with the eye. The vast majority of burns are treatable but all should be taken seriously.

Chemical eye burns fall into three categories based on a measurement of pH. The pH scale ranges from 0-14 and indicates how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The pH of 7 is neutral; the pH of healthy tears is 7.5. A pH less than 7 is acidic while a pH greater than 7 is alkaline.

The three categories of chemical eye burns are:

  • Alkali Burns: These burns involve high pH chemicals, and thus are the most dangerous. They are powerful enough to penetrate the eye, and cause damage to its vital inner components. In the worst cases, they can lead to conditions like cataracts and glaucoma and may cause vision loss or blindness. Examples include: ammonia, drain cleaners, oven cleaners and fertilizers.
  • Acid Burns: Lower pH burns are less serious than alkali burns, but still dangerous. These burns don't easily penetrate the eye, but still may cause significant damage to the cornea, with the potential to cause vision loss. Examples include: battery acid, vinegar, and nail polish remover. 
  • Irritant Burns: These substances are neutral in pH. Examples include many household detergents and pepper spray.

What Causes Chemical Eye Burns?

Most commonly, they occur in industrial workplaces where chemicals are present, and at home with common household cleaning products.

Symptoms of Chemical Eye Burns

Vision loss is indicative of a severe chemical eye burn. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Eye redness
  • Eye irritation
  • Eye pain
  • Swelling of the eyelid(s)
  • Blurred vision
  • Inability to keep your eye open
  • Feeling of foreign objects in the eye

Treatments for Chemical Eye Burns

No matter the situation, the most important thing to do when experiencing an eye burn is to get the chemical out of the eyes. A special chemical eye wash station is the best way to do this, if available; however, tap water is a viable option. To treat a chemical eye burn:

  • Flush the eyes out with cool water for at least 15 minutes
  • As you rinse, use your fingers to hold your eye open as wide as possible and roll your eye to ensure  the greatest coverage
  • Remove contact lenses, if applicable, if they do not come out during flushing 
  • In cases of severe burns, go to emergency (if you can continue flushing the eye out) or call 9-1-1 and flush your eyes out until help arrives

It is important to know what chemical came in contact with your eye; any alkali and acid burns in the eye should be evaluated since both have the potential to cause vision loss. 


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