What is eye injuries?

Eye injuries: Overview

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's needed.

Some sports and activities increase the risk of eye injuries.

  • Very high-risk sports include boxing, wrestling, and martial arts.
  • High-risk sports include basketball, baseball, tennis, fencing, and any shooting activities.
  • Low-risk sports include swimming and gymnastics. (There's 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 check for other injuries, especially to the head or face. Concern about an eye injury may cause you to miss other injuries that need care.

Burns to the eye

Burns to the eye may be caused by chemicals, fumes, hot air or steam, sunlight, tanning lamps, curling irons or hair 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 won't cause damage if they are flushed out of the eye quickly. Acids (such as bleach or battery acid) and alkali substances (such as oven cleansers or fertilizers) can damage the eye. It may take 24 hours after the burn to know how serious an eye burn may be. Chemical fumes and vapors can also irritate the eyes.
  • Flash burns to the cornea can occur from a source of radiation like the sun or lights. Bright sunlight can burn your eyes if you don't wear sunglasses that filter out ultraviolet (UV) light. These burns are most likely when the sun reflects off snow or water. Eyes that aren't 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.

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 get stuck on the eye. If the cornea is scratched, it can be hard to tell if the object has been removed. That's because a scratched cornea may feel painful. It may feel like something is still in the eye. Most of these scratches are minor and will 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, a grinding wheel, or any tool may strike the eye and could 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. They may need 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.

You can prevent eye injuries by using protective eyewear. Wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields when you work with power tools or chemicals. And use this eyewear when you do 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. If you have sight in only one eye, wear a sports eye protector under a face shield for added protection.

After an eye injury, you need to watch for vision changes and symptoms of an infection. Vision changes include flashes of light (photopsia) and new floaters. Signs of infection include pain and blurred vision. Most minor eye injuries can be treated at home.

What happens after a blow to the eye?

Some minor pain, bruising, and swelling are common following a blow to the eye. A black eye may show up after 1 or 2 days. A few specks or a small amount of blood on the white part of the eye often appear after a blow to the eye. Use home treatment to help relieve your symptoms.

A direct blow to the eye can damage the eyeball, the supporting muscles and ligaments, the eyelid, or the bony eye socket (orbit). Symptoms that may mean there is a more serious injury include:

  • Vision changes.
  • Inability to move the eye normally in all directions.
  • Pain with eye movements.
  • A large amount of blood in the white part (sclera) of the eye.
  • Any blood over the colored part (iris) of the eye.
  • A change in pupil size or shape, or pupils of different sizes.
  • Severe pain in the eyeball.
  • A feeling that something is in the eye (foreign body sensation).
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia).
  • Double or blurred vision.
  • Deformity of the bony eye socket that does not appear to be caused by swelling alone.
  • Numbness around the eye.
  • Abnormal upper eyelid movement.

With a blow to the eye, there is a chance that something punctured the eyeball.

If there was a blow to the eye, check for other injuries. Concern about the eye may cause you to miss other more serious head or face injuries that need medical care. Also check to see whether the injured person is wearing contact lenses.

A blow to the eye can break (fracture) the bones of the eye socket (eye orbit), sinuses, or nose. The fractured bones may puncture the eye, causing bleeding and damage to the eye. A blow to the eye may damage muscles, blood vessels, or nerves. Head, eye, or facial surgery may be needed to repair damage.

What types of eye injuries cause changes to your pupils?

With an injury to the eye, the muscles that control the pupil size and shape can be damaged. These muscles control the ability of the pupil to change in size and keep its round shape.

An injury that punctures the eyeball may cause a teardrop-shaped pupil.

An injury to the eye may also cause the pupils to react differently to light or to be different sizes.

Call your doctor for an evaluation if you have a change in the size or shape of your pupil after an injury to your eye.

Caring for a minor eye injury

Most minor eye injuries can be treated at home.

  • Use a sterile bandage or cloth.
    • If you have a cut on your eyelid, apply a sterile bandage to protect the area. If you don't have a sterile bandage, use a clean cloth.
    • Don't use fluffy cotton bandages around the eye. They could tear apart and get stuck in the eye.
    • Keep the bandage clean and dry.
  • Reduce swelling.
    • 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.
    • Keep your head elevated. This helps reduce swelling.
    • After the swelling goes down, try warm compresses to help relieve pain.
    • Don't use chemical cooling packs on or near the eye. If the pack leaks, the chemicals could cause more eye damage.
    • Don't use a piece of raw meat on an injured eye.
  • Use pain medicine.

    Try a nonprescription pain medicine such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin to relieve pain. It's not recommended that you take aspirin if you are age 20 or younger.

  • Get more help for children.
    • Having another adult help you treat the child is a good idea. Using first aid for an eye injury in a child may be hard. It depends on the child's age, size, and ability to cooperate.
    • Stay calm, and talk in a soothing voice. Use slow, gentle movements to help the child stay calm and cooperative. A struggling child may need to be held strongly so that first aid can be started and so that you can assess how serious the eye injury is.

If you are concerned that your eye symptoms may be more serious, you may need to check with your doctor.

How do you make a cold pack for eye injuries?

Ice and cold packs can reduce the pain, swelling, and bleeding of an injury. Cold therapy is usually used immediately after an injury.

For an eye injury, use one of the following methods:

Ice towel.

Wet a towel with cold water and squeeze it until it is just damp. Fold the towel, place it in a plastic bag, and freeze it for 15 minutes. Remove the towel from the bag and place it on the eye. Use this method when an ice pack is too heavy to put on the eye.

Ice pack.

Place ice in a plastic, leak-proof bag wrapped in a single layer of cloth, such as a towel or washcloth. The ice can be cracked into small pieces to make the pack more flexible. Do not place ice directly on the skin.

Frozen food pack.

Use a small bag of frozen peas or corn wrapped in a towel.

Do not use chemical cooling packs. If the pack leaks, the chemicals could cause more eye damage.

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