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A man pointing his finger to an injured eye

When accidents involve eye injuries, it’s important to know what steps to take. Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency can minimise damage to the eye, ensure optimal healing and even save vision. Read on to find the 7 most common eye injuries and what to do if an accident occurs.

1. Scratched Eye (Corneal Abrasion)

A corneal abrasion (scratched cornea or scratched eye) is one of the most common eye injuries which can happen in an instant. Corneal abrasions result from a disruption or loss of cells in the top layer of the cornea, called the corneal epithelium. There are countless ways to get a corneal abrasion — from a poke in the eye, to a grain of sand getting stuck in your eye.  No matter how big or small, anything that makes contact with the surface of your eye can cause an injury. A scratched cornea often causes significant discomfort, red eyes and hypersensitivity to light.

One of the biggest risks from corneal abrasions is that they can make your eye susceptible to infection from bacteria or a fungus. Certain types of bacteria and fungi can enter the eye through a scratch and cause serious harm in as little as 24 hours. This is especially true if whatever scratched your eye is dirty or contaminated.

What to do:

If you get something in your eye, you can attempt to flush it out with water, but don’t rub your eye. Don’t patch it either, since this can speed bacterial growth and increase the risk of an eye infection.  Simply keep the eye closed or loosely tape a paper cup or eye shield over it. See your doctor as soon as possible to check out this type of eye injury.

Treatment for a corneal abrasion depends on the severity of the wound and the cause of the injury. Minor abrasions sometimes can be treated with non-preserved lubricating drops to keep your eye moist and comfortable while your eye’s natural healing process takes place.

More severe corneal abrasions may require an antibiotic ointment that stays on the eye longer, a steroid to decrease inflammation and scarring, and something to relieve pain and light sensitivity. Large, deep corneal abrasions take longer to heal and can cause a permanent scar that might affect vision.

2. Foreign Object in the Eye

A foreign object in the eye is something that gets into the the eye from outside the body. It can be anything that does not naturally belong there, from a particle of dust to a metal shard. When a foreign object enters the eye, it will most likely affect the cornea or the conjunctiva. If you have a foreign body in your eye, you will probably experience immediate symptoms which include: a sensation that something is stuck in your eye, eye pain, tearing, light sensitivity, excessive blinking, redness or a bloodshot eye.

What to do:

If you have a foreign object in your eye, prompt diagnosis and treatment will help prevent infection and potential loss of vision. Have someone look to see if there is anything visible. Even a small speck of sand can be intensely irritating but may be visible on the eye. You may be able to wash the object out. Sometimes lifting the lid away from the eye a few times helps free it up. If you can roll the lower lid out or flip over your upper lid you may find an otherwise invisible object so it can be removed.

If you have no success then visit an optometrist or ophthalmologist promptly so they can remove it. Pieces of metal on the eye can leave spots of rust which may need to be removed as well.

A woman upset and crying

3. Perforation of the Eye

If you have something hit the eye at high speed then it may perforate the eye. This is of course very serious. You will probably experience immediate symptoms of intense pain and sensitivity and a reduction of vision.

What to do:

If a penetrating object, such as a fish hook penetrates the eye, visit your emergency room/urgent care centre right away. If you attempt to remove the object from your eye yourself or if you rub your eye, you could cause even more injury to your eye.

In the meantime, to avoid further injury to the eye immediately after the incident, it is important to restrict eye movement and bandage the eye using a clean cloth or gauze. If the object is too large to allow for a bandage, cover the eye with a paper cup. Covering the uninjured eye will help to prevent eye movement in the affected eye.

4. Chemical Burn (Caustic Foreign Substance In The Eye)

Chemicals common at home or in the workplace can easily get splashed into your eyes. Chemical burns may result from rubbing your eyes after handling chemicals or by getting sprayed in the eye by hair spray or other aerosols. The symptoms of a chemical burn depend on the substance splashed into the eyes, but may include stinging, a burning sensation, redness, pain, swelling of the eyelids and blurry vision.

While some substances burn or sting when they come into contact with the eye, they can be fairly harmless in the long run, while others can cause serious injury. Among the most dangerous chemicals are alkalis, such as oven or drain cleaners and fertilizers. They attack the tissues of the eye very quickly and cause damage or even blindness. Acids like bleach and swimming pool chemicals can also cause injury but aren’t as harmful. Vapours from chemicals can cause irritation.

What to do:

Depending on the substance, the effects of chemical exposures causing eye injuries can range from minor irritation and red eyes to serious damage and even blindness. However, in many cases, the best way to treat a chemical burn is to immediately rinse the eye copiously (with saline or fresh water), which can dramatically reduce the risk of injury and long-term damage. If you wear contact lenses, remove them as soon as possible.

After rinsing your eye, call your eye doctor or emergency room/urgent care centre to see what is recommended for your specific eye injury. It is important to make sure you tell the person on the phone exactly what kind of substance got into your eye and what you’ve done about it so far. Early recognition and treatment ensures the best possible outcome for this potentially blinding condition.

For more serious cases, if you know your eye is at risk because it is extraordinarily red or blurry, then just go immediately to your eye doctor or emergency care centre after you have rinsed it out with water. After rinsing, you can put a cool, moist compress or ice pack on your eye but don’t rub it or apply any pressure.

5. Eye Swelling and Bruising

Eye swelling and puffy, swollen eyelids or bruising around the eye area (commonly referred to as a ‘black eye’) can result from any blunt force trauma, like for example being struck in the eye such as from a baseball moving at a high speed.

Technically speaking, a black eye is a bruise or discolouration caused by broken blood vessels under the surface of the skin. Since the facial skin around the eye socket is relatively thin and transparent, even a slight pooling of blood can result in a very noticeable bruising and swelling around the eye area. If the impact on the eye socket is severe it can result in fractures of the bones. That in turn can cause double vision.

What to do:

The best immediate treatment for this type of eye injury is an ice pack. Holding an ice pack on the injury helps to ease swelling and narrows the blood vessels, which will stop the bleeding below the skin. However, do not apply any pressure to the eye area.

To make a crushed ice pack, wrap a bag of frozen vegetables or a cold gel pack in a cloth, so that it doesn’t have direct contact with your skin. Try to hold the ice pack up to your eye for 10 minutes. Besides an icepack treatment, there isn’t much else you can do to except to avoid anything that could cause further injury. However, if a black eye causes any pain or visual disturbance or double vision, immediately contact your ophthalmologist or emergency room.

A close up photo of a bruised eye

6. Subconjunctival Haemorrhages (Eye Bleeding)

A subconjunctival haemorrhage is another term for bleeding on the white of the eye. When small, delicate blood vessels break beneath the tissue covering the white of the eye (conjunctiva), bleeding can result. The bleeding may be limited to a small sector of the eye, or it can extend over the entire eye, making the white sclera appear bright red.

Despite its conspicuous appearance, subconjunctival haemorrhages look more serious than they are and they are benign — usually causing no vision problems or significant eye discomfort. If there is enough blood it can stretch the conjunctival membrane and cause some aching. Subconjunctival haemorrhages are relatively common and can occur from even a minor injury to the eye. Even coughing, sneezing, straining or rubbing your eyes too hard might cause capillaries to break. They can also occur spontaneously, usually overnight, without any trauma at all. They can also be recurrent but are still benign.

What to do:

No treatment is required as over time the blood will eventually clear and the eye will return to a normal appearance. In most cases, it takes seven to 10 days for a subconjunctival haemorrhage to resolve on its own. As the blood gradually disappears the affected area can change colour like a bruise. During the healing process, make sure not to rub your eye which can increase the risk of re-bleeding right after onset — similar to how a nose bleed is susceptible to re-bleeding in the early stages.

A close up photo of an eye with a blood in it

7. Hyphemas

A hyphema is a condition in which blood accumulates in the front chamber of the eye, the space between the cornea and the iris.  Since blood covers the iris and pupil, vision may be blocked partially or completely. They can be associated with other internal eye injuries to the lens, retina or eye pressure system.

What to do:

If you suffer an injury which results in poor vision then you must seek urgent medical attention in case it is a hyphaema or perhaps another internal eye injury.

In Summary...

Vision is a precious gift that allows us to see and experience the wonderful world around us! Don’t compromise your sight, as delaying medical attention or responding in the wrong way immediately after an injury has occurred can cause the damaged areas to worsen and could result in permanent vision loss or blindness. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the steps to take in case of an emergency. After all, accidents happen in the blink of an eye! To help you remember the basics if an accident does occur, follow these Eye Injury General Rules:

  • Do not touch, rub or apply pressure to the eye.
  • Do not try to remove the object stuck in the eye.
  • Do not apply ointment or medication to the eye.
  • Flush out chemicals with clean water.
  • Place a shield (like a small cup) or sterile gauze pad over the eye; cover both eyes to prevent eye movement if possible.
  • Use an ice pack to reduce swelling when necessary.
  • See an eye doctor as soon as possible. Call 0800 25 53 93
Eye Health Tips Eye Health Tips Monday, 25 Mar 2019

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