It's common for a speck of dirt to get blown into your eye, for soap to wash into your eye, or for you to accidentally bump your eye. For these types of minor eye injuries, home treatment is usually all that is needed.
See a picture of the eye.
Some sports and recreational activities increase the risk of eye injuries.
- Very high-risk sports include boxing, wrestling, and martial arts.
- High-risk sports include baseball, football, tennis, fencing, and squash.
- Low-risk sports include swimming and gymnastics (no body contact or use of a ball, bat, or racquet).
Blows to the eye
Direct blows to the eye can damage the skin and other tissues around the eye, the eyeball, or the bones of the eye socket. Blows to the eye often cause bruising around the eye (black eye) or cuts to the eyelid. If a blow to the eye or a cut to the eyelid occurred during an accident, be sure to check for injuries to the eyeball itself and for other injuries, especially to the head or face. Concern about an eye injury may cause you to miss other injuries that need attention.
Burns to the eye
Burns to the eye may be caused by chemicals, fumes, hot air or steam, sunlight, tanning lamps, electric hair curlers or dryers, or welding equipment. Bursts of flames or flash fires from stoves or explosives can also burn the face and eyes.
- Chemical burns can occur if a solid chemical, liquid chemical, or chemical fumes get into the eye. Many substances will not cause damage if they are flushed out of the eye quickly. Acids and alkali substances can damage the eye. It may take 24 hours after the burn to determine the seriousness of an eye burn. Chemical fumes and vapors can also irritate the eyes.
- Bright sunlight (especially when the sun is reflecting off snow or water) can burn your eyes if you do not wear sunglasses that filter out ultraviolet (UV) light. Eyes that are not protected by a mask can be burned by exposure to the high-intensity light of a welder's equipment (torch or arc). The eyes also may be injured by other bright lights, such as from tanning booths or sunlamps.
For more information, see the topic Burns to the Eye.
Foreign objects in the eye
A foreign object in the eye, such as dirt, an eyelash, a contact lens, or makeup, can cause eye symptoms.
- Objects may scratch the surface of the eye (cornea) or become stuck on the eye. If the cornea is scratched, it can be hard to tell whether the object has been removed, because a scratched cornea may feel painful and as though something is still in the eye. Most corneal scratches are minor and heal on their own in 1 or 2 days.
- Small or sharp objects traveling at high speeds can cause serious injury to many parts of the eyeball. Objects flying from a lawn mower, grinding wheel, or any tool may strike the eye and possibly puncture the eyeball. Injury may cause bleeding between the iris and cornea (hyphema), a change in the size or shape of the pupil, or damage to the structures inside the eyeball. These objects may be deep in the eye and may require medical treatment.
In the case of a car air bag inflating, all three types of eye injuries can occur. The force of impact can cause a blow to the eye, foreign objects may enter the eye, and chemicals in the air bag can burn the eye.
Eye injuries can be prevented by using protective eyewear. Wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields when working with power tools or chemicals or doing any activity that might cause an object or substance to get into your eyes. Some professions, such as health care and construction, may require workers to use protective eyewear to reduce the risk of foreign objects or substances or body fluids getting in the eyes.
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Most minor eye injuries can be treated at home.
- If you have a cut on your eyelid, apply a sterile bandage or cloth to protect the area. If you don't have a sterile bandage, use a clean cloth. Do not use fluffy cotton bandages around the eye that could tear apart and get stuck in the eye. Keep the bandage clean and dry.
- To reduce swelling around the eye, apply ice or cold packs for 15 minutes 3 or 4 times a day during the first 48 hours after the injury. The sooner you apply a cold pack, the less swelling you are likely to have. Place a cloth between the ice and your skin. After the swelling goes down, warm compresses may help relieve pain.
- Do not use chemical cooling packs on or near the eye. If the pack leaks, the chemicals could cause more eye damage. Do not use a piece of raw meat on an injured eye.
- Keep your head elevated to help reduce swelling.
- Try a nonprescription pain medicine such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin to relieve pain. Do not take aspirin if you are younger than 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
More specific home treatment can be used for certain types of eye injuries.
- First aid for objects in the eye
- First aid for a blow to the eye and a black eye
- First aid for heat burns to the eyes or the area around the eyes
- First aid for minor cuts to or around the eyes
If your eye symptoms are not completely gone after 24 hours of home treatment, see your doctor.
Eye injury in a child
Applying first aid measures for an eye injury in a child may be difficult, depending on the child's age, size, and ability to cooperate. Having another adult help you treat the child is helpful. Stay calm and talk in a soothing voice. Use slow, gentle movements to help the child remain calm and cooperative. A struggling child may need to be held strongly so that first aid can be started and the seriousness of the eye injury assessed.
|Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:|
Talk to your child’s doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
|Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
Symptoms to Watch For During Home Treatment
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your symptoms if any of the following occur during home treatment:
The following tips may help prevent eye injuries.
- Wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields when you hammer nails or metal, work with power tools or chemicals, or do any activity that might cause a burn to your eyes. If you work with hazardous chemicals that could splash into your eyes, know how to flush chemicals out, and know the location of the nearest shower or sink.
- If you are welding or near someone else who is welding, wear a mask or goggles designed for welding.
- Wear protective eyewear during sports such as hockey, racquetball, or paintball that involve the risk of a blow to the eye. Baseball is the most common sport to cause eye injuries. Fishhook injuries are another common cause of eye injuries. Protective eyewear can prevent sports-related eye injuries more than 90% of the time. An eye examination may be helpful in determining what type of protective eyewear is needed.
- Injuries from ultraviolet (UV) light can be prevented by wearing sunglasses that block ultraviolet (UV) rays and by wearing broad-brimmed hats. Be aware that the eye can be injured from sun glare while boating, sunbathing, or skiing. Use eye protection while you are under tanning lamps or using tanning booths. Laser pointers have not been shown to cause eye injury.
- Wear your seat belt when in a motor vehicle. Use child car seats.
Prevention tips for children
Eye injuries are common in children, and many can be prevented. Most eye injuries happen in older children. They happen more often in boys than in girls. Toys—from crayons to toy guns—are a major source of injury, so check all toys for sharp or pointed parts. Household items, such as elastic cords, can also strike the eye and cause injury.
Teach your children about eye safety.
- Be a good role model—always wear proper eye protection.
- Get protective eyewear for your children and help them use it properly.
- Teach children that flying toys should never be pointed at another person.
- Teach children how to carry sharp or pointed objects properly.
- Teach children that any kind of missile, projectile, or BB gun is not a toy.
- Use safety measures near fires and explosives, such as campfires and fireworks.
Any eye injury that appears unusual for a child's age should be evaluated as possible child abuse.
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
If you have had an eye injury that affects your vision, have someone else drive you to your doctor. If you are wearing contact lenses, remove them and take your glasses with you.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions.
- What are your main symptoms? How long have you had your symptoms?
- How and when did the injury occur?
- Have you had any injuries in the past to the same eye? Do you have any continuing problems because of the previous injury?
- Is there a foreign object in the eye? What is the object? Did it fall into the eye or did it fly into the eye at high speed?
- What type of substance was splashed into your eye? How and when did it happen? Take the container with you.
- How did the heat (thermal) burn occur?
- How did the ultraviolet (UV) light burn occur?
- Do you wear glasses or contacts? Did you remove your contact lens? Has the injury affected your vision (as corrected with glasses or contacts)?
- What kind of vision changes are you having (not related to removing your eyeglasses or contact lenses)?
- What home treatment have you tried? Did you flush your eye with water for 30 minutes as a first aid measure? Did it help?
- What prescription or nonprescription medicines have you used? Did they help?
- Were drugs or alcohol involved in your injury?
- Do you have any health risks?
|Author||Jan Nissl, RN, BS|
|Editor||Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA|
|Associate Editor||Tracy Landauer|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Christopher J. Rudnisky, MD, FRCSC - Ophthalmology|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Steven L. Schneider, MD - Family Medicine|
|Last Updated||December 6, 2009|
Last Updated: December 6, 2009