What are eye injuries?
Eye injuries can range from the very minor, such as getting soap in one’s eye, to the catastrophic, resulting in permanent loss of vision or loss of the eye. These types of injuries often occur in the workplace, at home, from other accidents, or while participating in sports.
How common are eye injuries?
Eye injuries are extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of eye injuries?
The common symptoms of eye injuries are:
- Chemical exposure: The most common symptoms are pain or intense burning. The eye will begin to tear profusely, may become red, and the eyelids may become swollen.
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage (bleeding): Generally, this condition by itself is painless. Vision is not affected. The eye will have a red spot of blood on the sclera (the white part of the eye). This occurs when there is a rupture of a small blood vessel on the surface of the eye. The area of redness may be fairly large, and its appearance is sometimes alarming. Spontaneous subconjunctival hemorrhages may occur in the absence of any known trauma. If it is unassociated with other signs of trauma, it is not dangerous and generally goes away over a period of four to 10 days with no treatment.
- Corneal abrasions: Symptoms include pain, a sensation that something is in the eye, tearing, and sensitivity to light.
- Iritis: Pain and light sensitivity are common. The pain may be described as a deep ache in and around the eye. Sometimes, excessive tearing is seen.
- Hyphema: Pain and blurred vision are the main symptoms.
- Orbital blowout fracture: Symptoms include pain, especially with movement of the eyes; double vision that disappears when one eye is covered; and eyelid swelling which may worsen after nose blowing. Numbness of the upper lip on the affected side may occur. Swelling around the eye and bruising often occur. A black eye is the result of blood pooling in the eyelids. This can take weeks to disappear totally.
- Conjunctival lacerations: Symptoms include pain, redness, and a sensation that something is in the eye.
- Lacerations to the cornea and the sclera: Symptoms include decreased vision and pain.
- Foreign bodies:
- Corneal: A sensation that something is in the eye, tearing, blurred vision, and light sensitivity are all common symptoms. Sometimes the foreign body can be seen on the cornea. If the foreign body is metal, a rust ring or rust stain can occur.
- Intraorbital: Symptoms, such as decreased vision, pain, and double vision, usually develop hours to days after the injury. Sometimes, no symptoms develop.
- Intraocular: People may have eye pain and decreased vision, but initially, if the foreign body is small and was introduced into the eye at high velocity, people may have no symptoms.
- Light-induced injuries:
- Ultraviolet keratitis: Symptoms include pain, light sensitivity, redness, and an intense feeling that something is in the eye. Symptoms do not appear immediately after ultraviolet exposure but rather about four hours later.
- Solar retinopathy: Decreased vision with a small area of central blurring is the primary symptom.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
In most cases, if a person has continuing symptoms of pain, visual disturbance, abnormal appearance of the eye or bleeding, they should go to an emergency medicine physician at an emergency department or see an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye care and eye surgery) if an ophthalmologist is readily available.
What causes eye injuries?
Eye injuries are caused by these followings:
- Chemical exposures and burns: A chemical burn can occur in a number of ways but is most often the result of a liquid splashing into the eye. Many chemicals, such as soap, sunscreen, and even tear gas, are merely irritants to the eye and do not usually cause permanent damage. However, strong acids and alkalis are highly caustic and may cause severe and permanent damage to the ocular surface.
- Acids (such as sulfuric acid found in car batteries) or alkaline substances (such as lye found in drain cleaner and ammonia) can splash into the eyes.
- Rubbing the eye when working with chemicals may transfer substances from the skin on the hands to the eye.
- Aerosol exposure is another method of potential chemical injury and includes such substances as Mace, tear gas, pepper spray, or hairspray.
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage (bleeding): This is a collection of blood lying on the surface of the white of the eye (sclera). The sclera is covered by the conjunctiva, which is the transparent blood vessel containing membrane that lies over the sclera. Subconjunctival hemorrhage may accompany any eye injury. It may also be spontaneous. The degree of subconjunctival hemorrhage is not necessarily related to the severity of the injury.
- Corneal abrasions: The cornea is the transparent tissue that is located in front of the pupil and iris. A corneal abrasion is a scratch or a traumatic defect in the surface of the cornea. People with corneal abrasions often report that they were “poked” in the eye by a toy, a metallic object, a toddler’s fingernail, or a tree branch or that they wore their contact lens too long.
- Traumatic iritis: This type of injury can occur in the same way as a corneal abrasion but is more often a result of a blunt blow to the eye, such as from a fist, a club, or an air bag in a car. The iris is the colored part of the eye. It contains muscles that control the amount of light that enters the eye through the pupil. Iritis simply means that the iris is inflamed.
- Hyphemas and orbital blowout fractures: These injuries are associated with significant force from a blunt object to the eye and surrounding structures. Examples would be getting hit in the face with a baseball or fist, getting kicked in the face, or being struck in the eye by a racquetball, squash ball, champagne cork, or some similar object.
- Hyphemas are the result of bleeding in the eye that occurs in the front part of the eye, called the anterior chamber. This is the space between the cornea and the iris. The anterior chamber is normally filled with clear fluid, called the aqueous fluid.
- Orbital fractures are breaks of the facial bones surrounding the eye. An orbital blowout fracture is a break in the thin bone that forms the floor of the orbit and supports the eye (orbital floor fracture).
- Lacerations (cuts) to the eyelids or conjunctiva (the clear covering over the white of the eye): These injuries commonly occur from sharp objects but can also occur from a fall.
- Lacerations to the cornea and the sclera: These injuries are potentially very serious and are frequently associated with trauma from sharp objects made of metal or glass.
- Foreign bodies in the eye: Generally, a foreign body is a small piece of metal, wood, or plastic.
- Corneal foreign bodies are embedded in the cornea and, by definition, have not penetrated the eye itself. Iron containing metal foreign bodies in the cornea can cause a rusty stain in the cornea, which also requires treatment.
- Intraorbital foreign bodies are located in the orbit (or eye socket) but have not penetrated the eye.
- Intraocular foreign bodies are injuries in which the outer wall of the eye has been penetrated by the object, which is now lodged within the eye itself.
- Ultraviolet keratitis (or corneal flash burn): The most common light-induced trauma to the eye is ultraviolet keratitis, which can be thought of as a sunburn of the cornea. Common sources of damaging ultraviolet (UV) light are welding arcs, tanning booths, and sunlight reflected by snow, water, or other reflective surfaces, especially at higher altitudes where UV rays are more intense.
- Solar retinopathy: Damage to the central part of the retina can occur by staring at the sun. Common situations that may cause this are viewing solar eclipses or drug-induced states where the person looks at the sun for an extended period of time.
What increases my risk for eye injuries?
Please consult your doctor for further information.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How are eye injuries diagnosed?
As with any medical condition, the history is very important. How the injury occurred will often help the emergency medicine doctor or ophthalmologist focus the examination. A patient’s vision (visual acuity) will be checked, so patients should bring their glasses to the office visit. The ophthalmologist is interested in preserving the best vision that an individual’s eye(s) can achieve.
To check for injuries to the cornea, the ophthalmologist or emergency medicine doctor usually places a drop of special dye or stain into the tear-lubricated area that normally lubricates the eye. The dye is called fluorescein, which stains those areas of the cornea that have been damaged. When a blue light is shined into the eye, corneal abrasions turn green in appearance.
A device called a slit lamp is often used as well. A slit lamp is essentially a special magnifying and illuminating microscope to look more closely at the eye.
X-rays are rarely used, except if an orbital fracture, intraocular, or intraorbital foreign body is suspected. Corneal foreign bodies do not require X-rays.
How are eye injuries treated?
Minor eye injuries can be cared for by your family doctor or by emergency-room doctors. For more serious eye injuries or if there are any questions regarding even the most trivial-appearing injury, an ophthalmologist should be consulted. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who has specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease. Some patients may need to consult a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage eye injuries?
Most minor eye injuries can be treated at home.
- If you have a cut on your eyelid, apply a sterile bandage or cloth to protect the area. If you don’t have a sterile bandage, use a clean cloth. Do not use fluffy cotton bandages around the eye. They could tear apart and get stuck in the eye. Keep the bandage clean and dry.
- To reduce swelling around the eye, apply ice or cold packs for 15 minutes 3 or 4 times a day during the first 48 hours after the injury. The sooner you apply a cold pack, the less swelling you are likely to have. Place a cloth between the ice and your skin. After the swelling goes down, warm compresses may help relieve pain.
- Do not use chemical cooling packs on or near the eye. If the pack leaks, the chemicals could cause more eye damage. Do not use a piece of raw meat on an injured eye.
- Keep your head elevated to help reduce swelling.
- Try a nonprescription pain medicine such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin to relieve pain. Do not take aspirin if you are younger than 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Eye injury. https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/tc/eye-injuries-home-treatment#1. Accessed October 26, 2017
Eye injury. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/eye_injuries/page4_em.htm#how_do_health-care_professionals_diagnose_eye_injuries. Accessed October 26, 2017
Review Date: October 26, 2017 | Last Modified: October 27, 2017