Eye emergencies

Definition

Eye emergencies include cuts, scratches, objects in the eye, burns, chemical exposure, and blunt injuries to the eye or eyelid. Certain eye infections and other medical conditions, such as blood clots or glaucoma, may also need prompt medical care. Since the eye is easily damaged, any of these conditions can lead to vision loss if untreated.

Considerations

It is important to get medical attention for eye or eyelid injuries and problems. Eye problems (such as a painful red eye or vision loss) that are not due to injury also need urgent medical attention.

Causes

Eye emergencies include any of the following:

Trauma

Chemical injury

Foreign object in the eye and corneal injuries

An injury to the eyelid may be a sign of a severe injury to the eye itself.

Symptoms

Depending on the type of injury, any of the following symptoms may be present:

First Aid

Take prompt action and follow the steps below if you or someone else has an eye injury.

SMALL OBJECT ON THE EYE OR EYELID

The eye will often clear itself of tiny objects, like eyelashes and sand, through blinking and tearing. If not, don't rub the eye or squeeze the eyelids. Then go ahead and examine the eye.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Examine the eye in a well-lighted area. Do not press on the eye.
  3. To find the object, have the person look up and down, then from side to side.
  4. If you cannot find the object, grasp the lower eyelid and gently pull it down to look under the lower eyelid. To look under the upper lid, place a clean cotton swab on the outside of the upper lid. Grasp the eyelashes and gently fold the lid over the cotton swab.
  5. If the object is on an eyelid, try to gently flush it out with clean water. If that does not work, try touching a second cotton swab to the object to remove it.
  6. If the object is on the surface of the eye, try gently rinsing the eye with clean water. If available, use an eye dropper or a bottle of eye drops, such as artificial tears, positioned above the outer corner of the eye. Do not touch the eye itself with the dropper or bottle tip.

A scratchy feeling or other minor discomfort may continue after removing eyelashes and other tiny objects. This should go away within a day or two. If discomfort or blurred vision continues, get medical help.

OBJECT STUCK OR EMBEDDED IN THE EYE

  1. Leave the object in place. Do not try to remove the object. Do not touch it or apply any pressure to it.
  2. Calm and reassure the person.
  3. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  4. Bandage both eyes. Covering both eyes helps prevent eye movement. If the object is large, place a clean paper cup or something similar over the injured eye and tape it in place. This prevents the object from being pressed on, which can injure the eye further. If the object is small, bandage both eyes.
  5. Get medical help right away. Do not delay.

CHEMICAL IN THE EYE

  1. Flush with cool tap water right away. Turn the person's head so the injured eye is down and to the side. Holding the eyelid open, allow running water from the faucet to flush the eye for 15 minutes.
  2. If both eyes are affected, or if the chemicals are also on other parts of the body, have the person take a shower.
  3. If the person is wearing contact lenses and the lenses did not flush out from the running water, have the person try to remove the contacts after the flushing.
  4. Keep flushing the eye with clean water or saline for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Seek medical help right away. Do not delay.

EYE CUT, SCRATCH, OR BLOW

  1. Gently apply a clean cold compress to the eye to reduce swelling and help stop bleeding. Do not apply pressure to control bleeding.
  2. If blood is pooling in the eye, cover both eyes with a clean cloth or sterile dressing.
  3. Seek medical help right away. Do not delay.

EYELID CUTS

  1. Carefully wash the eyelid. If the cut is bleeding, apply gentle pressure with a clean, dry cloth until the bleeding stops. Do not press on the eyeball.
  2. Cover with a clean dressing.
  3. Place a cold compress on the dressing to reduce pain and swelling.
  4. Seek medical help right away. Do not delay.

Do Not

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seek emergency medical care if:

Prevention

Supervise children carefully. Teach them how to be safe.

Always wear protective eye gear when:


Review Date: 5/10/2017
Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.