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Eye injuries

It’s best to treat any eye injury as a potential emergency.  Some types of infections can cause serious harm in as little as 24 hours. So don’t wait; you only have one pair of eyes. Some of the information below is painful to read, but nothing is as painful as lost vision; it’s better to know the facts than to risk serious harm due to being uninformed.

The four most common types of eye injuries include scratches or tears, embedded particles or foreign objects, irritation or burning from caustic substances, and impacts.

Impacts in turn can result in subsequent swelling, bleeding, inflammation or fractures of the facial bones surrounding the eye. Never put off seeking professional help for an eye injury for any reason.

Scratches or small tears can be caused by industrial or work place accidents, tree branches or thorns, flying debris or even a baby’s fingernail. As a result, you may notice pain, sensitivity to light, and redness. Don’t scratch or patch with anything dark, since bacteria thrive in warm wet spaces.

Embedded particles or foreign objects can include thorns, wooden splinters, and metal shavings. Metal shavings or shards that are iron-based can form a ring of rust which can harm vision permanently by leaving a scar. If something does puncture your eye, don’t try to remove it yourself since that could make it worse. Instead, get to a doctor immediately or call an ambulance if you have to.

Caustic or corrosive substances create a chemical burn. And in fact, damage is also possible due to sun burn or tanning beds. Getting sprayed or splashed in an eye is never fun. Some substances are relatively benign or can be washed out easily (such as acids). Others can hurt less but do more damage in the long run (alkalis).

Many household substances come in both acid and alkaline formulas depending on the brand. That includes drain cleaners, paint stripper, automative engine cleaners and automotive wheel/tire cleaners. For example, “non-acid” wheel/tire cleaners are normally alkaline and can do more harm to your eyes than an acid (because an acid is easier to wash out). Alkali formulas are also present in toilet bowl cleaners and oven cleaners.

Impacts commonly include sports injuries such as getting hit with a baseball or bat, hockey puck or hockey stick, plus falls, fist fights and car accidents.

  1. Bruising or a “black eye” is usually an immediate result, but it would be wise to also get seen by a doctor to ensure no internal damage.
  2. Surface bleeding looks worse than it usually is. This occurs when a blood vessle ruptures between the white of the eye and its clear protective covering. It is fairly common and thankfully painless. Moreover, there is little chance of permanent vision loss. Within a few weeks, the eye will be back to normal.
  3. Inflammation of the iris is more serious and an lead to permanent vision impairment despite medical treatment.
  4. Internal bleeding (called a hyphema) is a medical emergency and takes place when a blood vessel ruptures in the interior of the eye between the cornea and iris.
  5. Fractures of the bones surrounding the eye are also (obviously) a medical emergency and must be handled as such.

Protect your eyes and set a good example to others by always wearing protective eye goggles or glasses.

David Carlson, MD


Dr. David Carlson, Bestcare Medical Director, has been serving the community for more than 25 years.

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