What is chemical eye burns?

Chemical Eye Burns
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Chemical burns to the eye in children: Overview

Chemical burns to the eye can cause keratitis. Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea. The cornea is the outer, clear layer that covers the colored part of the eye and pupil. If your child gets chemicals in the eyes, it may take as long as 24 hours to know if there is damage. Your child's eyes will be flushed with water to reduce the chance of serious damage.

Your doctor may have put a few drops of medicine into your child's eye to help reduce swelling and to prevent infection and scarring. The doctor may also have given your child an eye patch or a special type of contact lens to wear while the eye heals.

The doctor probably used medicine to numb your child's eye. When the medicine wears off in 30 to 60 minutes, the eye pain may come back. The doctor may have you give pain medicine to your child.

Your child may need a follow-up visit with an eye doctor for another exam or more treatment.

How can you care for chemical burns in your child's eye?

  • If your doctor gave you ointment or eyedrops for your child, use them as directed. Use the medicine for as long as your doctor tells you to, even if the eye starts to look and feel better. Wash your hands before using the medicine.
  • To put in eyedrops or ointment:
    • Tilt your child's head back, and pull the lower eyelid down with one finger.
    • Drop or squirt the medicine inside the lower lid.
    • Have your child close the eye for 30 to 60 seconds to let the drops or ointment move around.
    • Do not touch the ointment or dropper tip to your child's eyelashes or any other surface.
  • Be sure to use only the eyedrops your doctor prescribed. Do not use over-the-counter eyedrops because they may make your child's symptoms worse.
  • Do not let your child use a contact lens in the hurt eye until your doctor says it's okay.
  • Do not let your child wear eye makeup until the eye heals.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • For the first 24 to 48 hours, limit your child's reading and other tasks that require a lot of eye movement.

What products can cause a chemical eye burn?

Many soaps, shampoos, and perfumes cause some burning in the eye. Other products also contain chemicals that can cause the eyes to burn. Of course, pepper spray causes a burning sensation in the eyes. But so do car air bags. They contain chemicals that can cause the eyes to burn when the air bag inflates. Chemical particles can also get stuck in the eye.

Two types of chemicals that may cause chemical eye burns are:

Acid products.

These include toilet cleaners, battery acid, bleach, chemicals used in industry for crystal etching, and chemicals that are added to gas. These products can cause burning in the eye and maybe more severe damage. The damage is usually kept to the area of contact. It doesn't normally cause damage deep in the tissue.

Alkaline products.

These include lime products, plaster, mortar, oven and drain cleaners, fertilizers, liquid or powder dishwasher soap, and sparks from "sparklers." These products can quickly cause serious damage. Alkaline chemicals are able to penetrate and damage the deeper layers of tissue.

Glue causes problems when it gets into the eye. That's because the treatment for removing it may cause more damage to the eye. Many water-based glues can be flushed out of the eye with water. Superglue needs special medical attention. Start flushing your eye with water, and call your doctor to arrange for your care. An eye specialist (ophthalmologist) may be needed to treat this type of injury. If you can't reach your doctor, go to the nearest emergency room to have your eye checked.

Chemical burns to the eye: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have a sudden loss of vision.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse eye pain.
  • Your vision gets worse.
  • Your eyes have new or worse sensitivity to light.
  • You have symptoms of an eye infection, such as:
    • Pus or thick discharge coming from the eye.
    • Redness or swelling around the eye.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your eyes are not getting better or they get worse.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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