Chemical Injury to the Eye

What Is It?

Eyes can be damaged by solid, liquid, powder or aerosol chemicals. Chemical injuries that happen in the home are most likely to be caused by soaps, disinfectants, solvents, cosmetics, drain cleaners, oven cleaners, ammonia and bleach. In agricultural settings, fertilizers or pesticides can cause eye damage. In industry, many irritating chemicals and solvents can injure the eye.

A chemical eye injury is an emergency. Damage can occur within one to five minutes. Most of the time, however, chemicals that come in contact with the eye cause only surface damage and no loss of vision. Caustic (alkaline) chemicals cause the worst damage. These include ammonia, drain cleaners, automatic dish washing detergents and oven cleaners.

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • A burning sensation in the eye after exposure to a chemical

  • Excessive tearing

  • Pain

  • Redness on the eye and eyelid surface

  • Blurred vision

Diagnosis

After your eye has been rinsed completely, your doctor will measure the pH (acidity) of the tears in your eye to make sure the chemicals have been washed out. Then your doctor will inspect your eye for damage and test your vision with an eye chart.

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