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Eye Injuries in the Kitchen

Nearly half of the estimated 2.5 million eye injuries reported each year happen in and around the home, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Ocular Trauma. More than 40% of those eye injuries happen during everyday activities such as cooking.

Here's how to protect your eyes while you're working in the kitchen:

Keep safety glasses handy. Most of us think of safety glasses for operating potentially dangerous power equipment. But protective eyewear has a place in the kitchen, too. Safety glasses can prevent eye injuries while cleaning the oven with caustic chemicals or when pouring drain cleaners into the sink, for instance. They can also prevent you from getting irritating food substances, such as hot pepper oil, in your eye while cooking. Look for protective eyewear approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Wash your hands frequently. Touching your eyes after chopping foods such as onions or hot peppers can transfer irritating substances into your eye, causing pain and redness. Hot peppers are especially potent. They contain a fiery oil called capsaicin, which is so irritating that it's used in the pepper spray some people carry for protection against assault. To keep capsaicin out of your eyes, wash your hands with soapy water. Don't forget to wash the chopping board thoroughly, as well. 

Know the basics of eye-related first aid. Accidents happen when you least expect them. Not long ago, the American Academy of Ophthalmology warned about a danger most of us wouldn't anticipate: getting hit in the eye with a champagne cork. You can minimize injury if you know how to respond quickly.

If you've gotten an irritating substance in your eye:

  • Immediately wash out your eye with cool tap water or saline solution (such as used to clean contact lenses).
  • Repeatedly blink your eye, which helps stimulate tears.

If you've gotten a potentially caustic chemical in your eye:

  • Wash your eye out with cool tap water or saline solution.
  • Call your doctor or go to an emergency room. Continue to wash your eye with drops while calling for help or traveling to the doctor.

If you've been struck in the eye by something:

  • For a minor injury, apply a cold compress very gently to the injured eye and call your eye doctor.
  • If your eye is bleeding or you notice a change in your vision or pain when you move your eyes, call your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.

If you've gotten something in your eye:

  • Don't rub your eye.
  • Pull the upper lid down over the lower lid. Blink repeatedly. This allows your lower eyelashes to sweep away particles.
  • If this doesn't help, rinse with water or saline solution.
  • If the particle is still stuck in your eye, call your doctor or go to an emergency room.

By following a few simple safety rules, you can avoid unnecessary accidents and make cooking a trouble-free pleasure.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Brian S. Boxer Wachler, MD on November 05, 2013

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