Eye injuries can range from small, petty eye irritations, like shampoo getting into your eyes, to extremely serious trauma that could cause vision loss. It is the most common cause of preventable blindness. The US Eye Injury Registry estimates that about one million Americans have a significant visual impairment due to eye injuries, 75% of which are people with monocular blindness or blindness in one eye.

Traumas or injuries to the eyes should be taken seriously. Immediate action and prompt medical attention can spell between transient visual disturbance and permanent visual loss.

Eye injuries occur in many different places, including at home, at work or during sports. The following are the most common eye injuries and guidelines on how to handle such injuries, particularly in emergency cases.

Foreign Objects

Minute foreign objects like dust or sand can easily get into the eye. The eye can clear itself of tiny debris through blinking and tearing.

Take the following steps if the debris still refuses to dislodge after much blinking or tearing:

  1. Do not rub your eyes. Wash your hands before you examine your eye.
  2. Examine the affected eye in a well-lighted area with the help of a mirror. Try to look up and down, then from side to side in order to locate the object.
  3. If you cannot locate the object, try looking under the lower eyelid by grasping it and pull down on it gently. To look under the upper eye lid, take a clean cotton swab and place it on the outside of the upper lid. Gently flip over the lid on the cotton swab.
  4. If it’s on an eye lid, try to flush it out with water. If that doesn’t work, use another clean cotton swab to remove it.
  5. If the object is on the eye, try flushing out the object with water (see instructions below). Do not use a cotton swab directly on the eye.

Flushing Your Eyes

Follow these steps when flushing your eyes. Remember to use plenty of clean water and remove your contact lens when flushing.

  • Tilt your head over a basin or sink. Make sure that the injured eye is lower than the unaffected eye. Using a cup or your cupped hand, gently pour water across the eye by pouring water from the bridge of the nose.
  • If both eyes are affected, tilt your head back and pour water across both eyes from the bridge of the nose.
  • Using the shower, aim a gentle stream of water on your forehead or just above the injured eye. Hold the injured eye open and let water ran across it.
  • Using a garden hose, set the water flow to the lowest setting and rinse your eye of the debris.

Chemical Burns

Common chemicals at home or at work can easily get splashed into your eye. Handle household cleaners with caution to avoid injuries and always wear safety goggles when handling corrosive and abrasive chemicals.

Observe the following when dealing with chemical burns:

  • Stay calm and keep your eyes open until they can be flushed. Keeping your eyes closed keeps the chemicals inside, making further damage.
  • Flush your eyes generously with cool tap water for about 15 to 20 minutes. Try to keep your eyes open at all times while flushing.
  • Take a shower if the chemicals are also in other parts of the body.
  • Remove your contact lenses after flushing if the lenses did not flush out from the running water.
  • Seek immediate medical care.

Blows to the Eye

Sudden force from a person or a fast moving object can strike the eye directly or the socket surrounding it. Minor blows can effectively be managed at home, but it should be monitored for signs of complications or more serious injuries.

Take the following steps to care for injuries of this type:

  • Gently apply a cold compress in 5 to 10 intervals to reduce swelling and control the bleeding. Do not apply ice directly on the skin or use pressure to control the bleeding.
  • Switch to hot compresses after 24 hours. This will help with the bruising.
  • Follow-up with an ophthalmologist to check for other possible injuries.

Seek immediate medical care if you observe the following:

  • Blood in the eye
  • Persistent or severe pain
  • Drainage or fluid flowing from the affected eye
  • Changes in your vision

Lacerations and Puncture Wounds of the Eye or Lid

Seek immediate medical care if you suffer these types of injuries. Observe the following tips to provide proper support and avoid further damage.

If the lid is cut,

Apply gentle pressure on the cut with a clean gauze or cloth until the bleeding stops.
2. Gently wash the eye and then cover with a clean dressing.
3. Seek immediate medical care.

If the eye is punctured or an object is embedded in the eye,

1. Do not wash the eye.
2. Do not attempt to take out the object that appears to be embedded in any part of the eye. Doing so may cause further damage.
3. Use an eye shield to cover the eye. If an eye shield is not available, use the bottom half of a paper cup and place it over the eye. Tape gently the shield or the cup over the eye to secure it.
4. Seek immediate medical attention.

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