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Chemical Eye Burns

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Medical Treatment in the Emergency Room

  • Immediate therapy: Doctors likely will continue washing your eye. No standard exists for the amount of washing required. Usually, doctors use at least one liter of fluid.

    • Depending on the type of chemical involved, the doctor may test the pH of your eye and continue washing until the pH returns to normal.

    • You may receive topical anesthetic eyedrops to numb your eye to make washing less painful.

    • Doctors will wipe or irrigate away any solid foreign material in your eye.

  • Exams and Tests: The doctor determines what chemical caused the burn and completes a thorough eye examination.

    • You are given an eye examination using an eye chart to determine how well you can see.

    • Structures surrounding the eye are checked.

    • Eyelids, in particular, require careful assessment. The doctor turns them inside out to look for foreign material.

    • The doctor may stain your eye with a dye called fluorescein to help determine the extent of damage.

  • If the burns are minor, you are usually sent home with antibiotic eyedrops and oral pain medications. Occasionally, you may be given dilating eyedrops to help with comfort, and your injured eye may be covered with an eye patch.

  • Any significant burn, especially an alkali or hydrofluoric acid burn, may require admission to the hospital.

  • For any minor injuries, an ophthalmologist should evaluate you within 24-48 hours of your injury. For any moderate to significant injury, an ophthalmologist should evaluate you before you leave the emergency room.

  • Your tetanus immunization status may be determined and updated.

Medications After You Go Home

  • For very minor injuries, you may need nothing more than artificial tears or lubricants for dry eyes.

  • For more significant injuries, you will need prolonged therapy with potentially many medications to heal your eye.

    • Until the surface of the eye heals, it is at a higher risk for an infection; therefore, topical antibiotics may be used in the form of eyedrops or ointments.

    • Topical steroids may be used to reduce inflammation and to facilitate healing early in the recovery period after a serious chemical injury. These medications should be used judiciously under the guidance of an ophthalmologist, because they can cause long-term complications, such as infections and glaucoma.

    • Other medications used to support corneal repair include topical citrate and ascorbate drops, oral antibiotics (for example, tetracycline, doxycycline), and oral vitamin C.

    • If your eye pressure is too high, glaucoma medications may be used temporarily to control the pressure.

    • Pain medications by mouth may be necessary, and dilating eyedrops are often also used to control pain and to aid recovery.

  • If your eye has been seriously damaged, you may need a surgery to control glaucoma, remove a cataract, or other procedures to restore a healthy ocular surface and eyelids.

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