How Splashing Chemicals In The Eyes Can Affect Vision

While splashing some chemicals in your eyes may cause only minor discomfort, exposure to certain chemical substances can cause permanent damage or even blindness. Chemical eye injuries can happen at work, but they can occur at home too. Injuries that are the result of splashing cleaning products or other household products in your eyes can be just as serious as splashing industrial chemicals in your eyes.

What part of the eye is affected?

Usually, chemical splashes affect the front part of the eye, including the cornea or the white part of the eye. Sometimes the damage can involve structures, such as the lens, inside the eye. Damage that goes below the outer surface of the eye is the most severe and can lead to cataracts and glaucoma.

What should you do?

When you splash a chemical substance in one or both eyes, immediately get your eye under running water to wash out the chemical. The longer the chemical remains on your eye, the more damage it can do.

Put your head under a faucet, turning it to one side. Flush your eye(s) with lukewarm tap water for 15 to 20 minutes or more, depending on the chemical. Run the water gently, holding the lids of your eyes open. It's important to keep your eyes open as wide as possible while washing them.

Another option is to step into the shower and run a slow stream of water on your forehead. You may choose to aim the spray of water on the bridge of your nose instead, especially if you have to rinse the chemicals from both eyes. Hold your eyelids open while washing, as closing your eyes can trap the chemical in your eye. Also, avoid rubbing your eyes since doing so can cause more damage.

For young children who splash a chemical substance in their eyes, you may find it easier to lie the child down in the tub or lean the child back over the sink. Gently pour water on the child's forehead or on the bridge of the nose to flush the eyes.

What symptoms can you experience?

Once you flush the eyes, the next step is to watch for symptoms of a severe chemical eye injury. Depending on the type of chemical substance you splashed in your eye – an irritant, alkalized substance, or acid – symptoms that are signs of a potentially serious injury include:

  • Inability to open your eye

  • Your eye is red or your eyelids are swollen

  • You feel like there is something in your eye

  • Eye pain

  • Blurry vision or vision loss

What is the treatment for chemical eye injuries?

If you must go to the emergency room or to see an eye doctor, take the container with you, if possible, so that those treating you know what chemical you splashed in your eyes. Following a thorough eye examination, based on the type of chemical and the severity of the burn, the doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops and oral pain medications. In some cases, the doctor also may prescribe topical steroids to reduce inflammation. Serious chemical eye burns may require hospitalization or even eye surgery. 

As you recover, you may need to meet with an optometrist to be fitted for a new prescription or to get glasses for the first time if you didn't need them before.