It’s enough to make you want to blink, just thinking about it. A baseball comes sailing right at your eye. Or you accidentally splash drain cleaner and a bit gets into your eye. And just like that, you have an eye injury.
The delicate tissues inside and around your eye need protection and TLC. Find out what causes most eye injuries, and how to prevent them.
Blow to the Eye
A strike to the eye with a hard object like a baseball, rock, or fist can damage the eye, eyelids, and muscles or bones that surround the eye.
If the injury is mild, you may get a swollen eyelid or black eye. If it’s more severe, you might also notice bleeding inside the eye.
If you’re hit hard enough, it could break the bones around your eye. Sometimes the eye muscles get trapped inside the broken bone, and will need to be freed with surgery.
Cut or Scratch
A stick, finger, or other object can accidentally get into your eye and scratch the cornea, the clear dome-like cover over your eye. A scratch can cause symptoms like:
- Blurred vision
- Light sensitivity
- Excess tears
Small scratches usually heal on their own. Deeper injuries can cause long-term vision problems.
Object in the Eye
Grains of sand, wood chips, metal shavings, or slivers of glass can get into the eye. A sharp object inside your eye can scratch or cut your cornea.
Having something in your eye will feel uncomfortable and it might make your eye water. When the cornea is scratched, it will feel like something is inside your eye and you can't get it out.
It's common to get soap, shampoo, or makeup in your eyes. While these might burn a little bit, flushing out your eyes with water should help.
Certain chemicals can cause very serious burns inside your eyes. Among the most dangerous chemicals are alkalis, such as oven or drain cleaners and fertilizers. They attack the tissues of the eye very quickly and cause damage or even blindness. Acids like bleach and swimming pool chemicals can also cause injury, but aren't as harmful. Vapors from chemicals can cause irritation.
The amount of damage depends on the chemical, how long it's in the eye, and how deep inside it went. The best way to treat a chemical burn is to flush out the eye with cool water for at least 15 minutes. Then get medical help.
The sun's ultraviolet, or UV, rays can burn your eyes, just like they can burn your skin. Signs that you've been exposed to too much UV radiation are red eyes, light sensitivity, tearing, and a feeling like something is in your eyes.
In the long run, too much sun and other forms of radiation can make you more likely to get cataracts or macular degeneration, a breakdown of a small area of the retina.
When to Call a Doctor
You can treat lots of minor eye injuries on your own. A deep cut and injuries associated with a loss of vision, pain, or broken bone need medical help. Also see a doctor for anything sharp in your eye, like a piece of metal or glass.
Call your doctor if you have any of these signs of a more serious eye injury:
- A noticeable change in vision
- Swelling in the eye
- Double vision
- Severe pain
- Torn eyelid
- Deep ache around the eye and brow
When to Call 911
Go to an emergency room or call 911 right away if:
- A piece of metal, glass, or other object is stuck in your eye
- A chemical got into your eye, and the pain didn't go away after you flushed the eye with water
How to Protect Your Eyes and Prevent Injuries
The best way to protect your eyes is to wear safety glasses or goggles whenever you work with chemicals or are around metal, glass, or other objects that could fly into your eyes. Also put on safety glasses when you use tools like a lawnmower, trimmer, or leaf blower.
Eye guards are a must for sports like squash and racquetball. If you play baseball or football, protect your eyes with a shield attached to your helmet.
Other ways to guard against eye injuries:
- Remove small rocks and other debris from your lawn before you mow, so your lawnmower doesn't kick them up into your eyes.
- Fix or replace any tools or equipment that might break apart while you use them.
- Read the instructions before using chemicals like fertilizer or cleaning products. Never mix chemicals unless the label says to do so.
- Use machine guards and work screens while working with equipment on the job.
- When you go outside, wear sunglasses that block out 99% to 100% of the sun’s radiation.