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Eye Injuries


Topic 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 is needed.

See a picture of the eyeClick here to see an illustration..

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 eyelidClick here to see an illustration. 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 (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 determine the seriousness of an eye burn. 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 (especially when the sun is reflecting off snow or water) can burn your eyes if you don't 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 corneaClick here to see an illustration. 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 when 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.

After an eye injury, you need to watch for vision changes and symptoms of an infection. Most minor eye injuries can be treated at home. See Home Treatment for first aid measures.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

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