Eye Exposure, Chemical

A chemical exposure, or injury, to the eye can occur when an acid or base solution comes in contact with your eye. As soon as the chemical gets in your eye, it is very important to flush (irrigate) your eye with sterile saline solution right away. If you don't have sterile saline, it is OK to use tap water instead.

After you flush the eye, get medical care right away.

Chemical exposure can cause anything from mild irritation to long-lasting (permanent) scarring and vision loss. How serious the injury is depends on:

  • What type of chemical it was

  • How concentrated the chemical was

  • Whether the chemical was an acid or a base

  • How long the chemical was in your eye

It is common to have some irritation for the next 24 hours, even in mild cases. If the exposure was more serious, be sure to follow up as directed.

The pressure inside of the eye can increase (called glaucoma) hours to days after a chemical eye injury. This requires prompt treatment. Watch for the symptoms described below.

Home care

  • You can put a cold pack over the eye for 20 minutes at a time. This may help reduce swelling and pain. To make a cold pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a clean, thin towel or cloth.

  • Eye drops may be prescribed to reduce irritation, inflammation, and risk of infection. If no drops were prescribed, you may use over-the-counter preservative-free artificial tears as needed.

  • You may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or have ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines.

If an eye patch was put on:

  • You may put the cold pack over the eye patch.

  • If you were given a follow-up appointment to have the patch removed and the eye examined, don't miss it. An eye patch should not be left in place for more than 48 hours, unless you are advised to do so by your healthcare provider.

  • Don't drive a motor vehicle or use machinery with the eye patch in place. It is hard to judge distance with only one eye.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as directed.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider or get medical care right away if any of these occur:

  • Increased eyelid swelling

  • Increasing pain in the eye

  • Increasing redness or drainage from the eye

  • Normal vision doesn't come back within 24 to 48 hours

  • Continued feeling that something is in your eye, lasting more than 48 hours

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