Women sitting at a desk, rubbing her eyes
Women sitting at a desk, rubbing her eyes

Chemical Eye Burns

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.

Initial treatment for any eye burn should always be to flush out the injured eye with non-caustic fluid (such as isotonic saline or lactate ringer solution). If these are not readily available, immediately flush the eye with plenty of clean water—a vital step that is shown to minimize the severity of chemical burns, reduce the presence of the harsh chemical and improve healing time.

Did You Know?

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

Symptoms of Chemical Eye Burns:

  • 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

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 of alkali chemicals include:

  • Sodium hydroxide (lye, found in drain cleaners and industrial cleaning solutions)
  • Ammonia (found in household cleaning solutions and fertilizers)
  • Calcium hydroxide (lime, found in cement and plaster)

Acid Burns: Lower-pH burns are usually less destructive than alkali burns, but are 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 of acid chemicals include:

  • Sulfuric acid (found in car batteries)
  • Vinegar
  • Hydrochloric acid (used to clean swimming pools)
  • Nail polish remover

Treatments for Chemical Eye Burns

Remember that—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 will suffice.

To treat a chemical eye burn:

  • Do not rub or put pressure on your eye, which can make matters worse
  • Do not remove contact lenses yet, if applicable
  • Wash your hands to remove any remaining chemicals and avoid further burns on your eyelid or face
  • Flush the eyes out with a continous stream of 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 the emergency room (if you can continue flushing the eye out) or call 9-1-1 and flush your eyes out until help arrives

If possible, take note of what chemical came into contact with your eye, as this information can help inform the medical treatment plan. Any alkali and acid burns in the eye should be evaluated, since both have the potential to cause vision loss.

Related Content