Chemical Eye Burns

Approximately 7-10% of all eye injuries are caused by chemical burns. While some chemical eye burns result in minimal injury, every chemical exposure or burn has the potential of causing permanent damage and therefore, must be taken seriously.


Approximately 7-10% of all eye injuries are caused by chemical burns. While some chemical eye burns result in minimal injury, every chemical exposure or burn has the potential of causing permanent damage and therefore, must be taken seriously.

The severity of a chemical burn is dependent on the chemical that has been exposed to the eye, the length of time it has been in contact with the eye and the method of treatment. Most chemical eye burns are restricted to the front part of the eye, the cornea. The burns that penetrate deeper into the eye past the cornea are the most dangerous. Most chemical eye injuries occur in the workplace. It is therefore very important for workplaces to take precautions if this can be an issue.

Types of Chemical Eye Burns

There are three categories of chemical eye burns: alkali burns, acid burns and irritants.

Alkali Burns

  • These burns are the most dangerous of the three types. Alkali chemicals have a high pH which can penetrate past the surface of the eye.
  • Common alkali chemicals contain the hydroxides of ammonia, lye, potassium hydroxide,, magnesium, and lime. These chemicals are present in everyday products such as fertilizers, cleaning products (ammonia), drain cleaners (lye), oven cleaners, plaster or cement (lime).

Acid Burns

  • These burns result from low pH chemicals. While these burns as less hazardous than alkali burns because they do not penetrate past the surface of the eye as easily, they should be taken very seriously as they can cause serious damage to the cornea, which can result in blindness. Hydrofluoric acid burns are a further concern as they can be as dangerous as alkali burns.
  • Common acids which cause eye burns include sulfuric acid, sulfurous acid, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, acetic acid, chromic acid and hydrofluoric acid. Products containing these acids include glass polish (hydrofluoric acid), vinegar, or nail polish remover (acetic acid) and automobile batteries, which can explode and cause sulfuric acid burns.

Irritants

  • Irritants have a neutral pH level and generally cause discomfort to the eye rather than any long-lasting damage.
  • Common irritants include household detergents and pepper spray.

Symptoms

Immediate symptoms of chemical eye burns include pain, redness, irritation, tearing, the inability to keep the eye open, a sensation of a foreign body in the eye, swelling of the eyelids and blurred vision.

Long term effects of serious chemical eye burns include glaucoma and full blindness.

Acute Angle Glaucoma

Treatment

Irrigation of the eye with generous amounts of eyewash solution must be started immediately and should continue for about 10 minutes with the eyelids as widely open as possible. If eyewash solution is not available, use tap water. It is very important to dilute and wash away the chemical in the eye as quickly as possible. The ideal treatment would be to go immediately to an eyewash or emergency shower station and wash out the affected eye with isotonic eyewash solution. If this is an alkali or hydrofluoric acid burn, continue washing the eye until medical help arrives. All alkali or acid eye burns must have immediate treatment by a doctor and ongoing care by an ophthalmologist.

Prevention

Unfortunately most eye injuries are due to negligence and are completely avoidable. Safety glasses or goggles should always be used when working with hazardous materials.

Sources

This information is offered as information only and is designed to promote Health & Safety in the workplace and the community. It is subject to change.

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