Eye Burn: How to Treat It

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on August 17, 2022
3 min read

A splash of bleach hits you in the eye. You lean too closely to the stove’s open flame. The searing pain you feel likely is a sign that you’ve got an eye burn.

A number of things can injure your delicate eyes. They include household chemicals like vinegar, oven cleaners, and bleach. A curling iron, hot oil, or coffee can cause a heat, or thermal, burn.

When something injures your eye, your automatic response is to blink. So your eyelid may be burned, too.

Quick action may prevent long-term problems to your eye or your vision.

After the accident, rinse your eye out as soon as you can. The faster you act, the better your chances of healing totally. Run cool water over your eye for at least 15-20 minutes before you do anything else. You also can use saline solution or the liquid from an eyewash kit instead. You may want to keep your eyes closed because of the pain. But that can only make the damage worse.

You can rinse several ways:

  • Pour water onto the bridge of your nose. It will run down the side of your nose and into one or both eyes, depending on which way you move your head.
  • Stand in the shower and aim the nozzle at your forehead. The water will run down your face and into one or both eyes.
  • Fill a sink or a pan with water, and dunk your face. Keeping blinking to force the water all over eyes.

If you have contact lenses on, take them out while the water runs over your eyes. Don’t wait to take the contacts out first. Wash your hands with soap and water first in case you still have any chemical on your hands.

Blink to make sure the water rinses every part of your eye. If you can’t blink, open your eyes with your fingers to let the water in.

Once you finish flushing, you should get medical help.

If you have a chemical burn, you can call a poison control center about what you should do. The national hotline number is 800-222-1222.

Usually, the most dangerous chemical burns come from alkali substances, like ammonia, dish soap, drain cleaners, and cement (lime). Acid chemicals also can cause serious damage to your eye and eyesight. They include nail polish remover and acid from automobile batteries.

You’ll probably have to go to the emergency room. Take the container of chemical with you so your doctors will know exactly what it is. You may want to wear sunglasses if sunlight bothers or pains you.

Also go to the emergency room if you have a thermal burn.

If you have a chemical burn, doctors will work fast to get your eye’s chemical balance back to normal. They’ll keep rinsing your eye out with water, and they’ll check your eye’s pH level every half-hour. They may use a special tool to hold your eyelid open.

If you have a thermal burn, doctors will work quickly to cool your eye tissue. They’ll continue rinsing your eye out with water. They may also place a cold compress on your eye to bring down the temperature.

You’ll likely be in a lot of pain, so your doctor may give you medicine for that. You also may get a prescription antibiotic ointment for any infection. If the burn affected your tear ducts, you may need artificial tears or an ointment to keep your eye moist while it heals.

The ER doctor will give you a vision test to see if the burn has affected the way that you see. You should meet with an eye doctor soon after to check for any long-term damage to your vision.