Chemical eye burns can occur when the eye comes into contact with a solid, liquid, or vaporous chemical. The severity of the burn depends on the chemical, as well as the amount that comes into contact with the eye. Fortunately, the vast majority of burns are treatable and cause only temporary discomfort.
Chemical eye burns fall into three categories based upon acidic or alkaline level, measured in pH. The pH scale ranges from 0-14 and indicates how acidic or basic 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 basic.
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.
- Acid Burns: Lower pH burns that are less serious than alkali burns, but still dangerous. These burns are unable to penetrate the eye, but still may cause significant damage to the cornea, with the potential to cause vision loss.
- Irritations: These burns are neutral in pH
What Causes Chemical Eye Burns?
Chemical burns can happen anywhere for any reason. 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 eye
- Blurred vision
- Inability to open the eye
- 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; however, if the burn is not experienced at work, tap water is a viable option. To treat a chemical eye burn:
- Flush the eyes out with 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
- In cases of severe burns, call 9-1-1 and flush your eyes out until help arrives