Common Eye Injuries: Types, Symptoms, Treatments

Written By: Susannah Lockett

Simple measures like wearing safety eye goggles and protective facial sports gear may help prevent serious eye injuries from occurring in the first place. This is always preferred over treating an eye injury once it has happened.

Eye injuries can range from minor chemical irritation to a superficial scratch to a sight-threatening puncture wound. Tree branches swaying in a powerful wind at eye level are a surprisingly common source of eye injuries.

This article will discuss common eye injuries and how to treat them.

Corneal Scratches and Abrasions

This can happen if a foreign object, such as a fingernail, scratches the cornea’s surface. When this happens, symptoms like pain, eye redness, and profound light sensitivity commonly result. Corneal abrasions are one important reason why you should never rub the eye when you feel like there is something in it, such as sand.

If something has scratched your eye, you will need to visit your eye doctor for an exam to determine the severity of the injury and to prescribe any treatment. When the eye’s surface is scratched, pathogens can enter the scratch and start an infection, which can happen very fast.

Some types of fungi and bacteria can cause sight-threatening infections in as little as 24 hours. This is especially true if the injury is from a highly contaminated object, such as a dirty piece of metal.

While waiting for medical attention, lightly tape a paper cup or shield over the eye. Don’t patch it. This will only create the warm, dark, moist environment germs need to grow.

Penetrating Eye Injuries

If something sharp penetrates your eye, such as a fish hook, you will require immediate emergency treatment. Go to your nearest emergency treatment facility. Don’t waste any time calling an eye doctor in this case. Just go for emergency treatment right away.

Although it may be tempting, never try to remove a foreign object out of your eye, especially one embedded in the eye. With all their training, even doctors are cautious with these injuries and may call in a specialist to protect your sight.

Hopefully, any embedded object will not have entered the eye’s interior. Your chances of recovery are much better with surface injuries. However, any metal in the eye can form a rust ring and involve significant scarring and corneal damage if not removed promptly.

A rust ring is another name for a stain on the cornea. This occurs when the metal in the eye reacts with the salt in your tears, forming rust just like metal would anywhere else. A rust ring left from a successfully removed metal object or objects will typically fade over a two to three-day period.

Chemical Eye Burns

Alkali and acids are both potentially corrosive and can damage the eyes. Alkali and acids refer to the pH scale, which measures the power of an acid or alkaline substance. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being the neutral figure.

From there, chemicals below 7 are acidic. Those above it are alkaline. The strongest acids have lower numbers, while the strongest alkalis have higher numbers. The term “pH” stands for positive hydrogen.

Acids and Alkalis

Of course, powerful acids can cause serious eye injury, but as a general rule, many of them can be washed out without much trouble. Alkalis are worse and typically more dangerous than acids when they make contact with the eye. Many people think acids are worse because they invariably cause a lot of pain in the injured eye.

Although alkalis don’t often cause as much pain in the eye as acids, they can produce much more severe eye damage overall. Examples of common alkalis are certain drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and even chalk dust.


Chemical Splash Injuries

Chemicals can get in the eye from unexpected splashes. They can also be transferred from the hands or other objects and by careless handling of aerosol sprays.

Chemicals in the eye should be washed out immediately by placing your head under a stream of slightly warm, steady running water. Just let the water run into your eyes and down your face.

After this step (or during it if someone is with you and can call for you), contact your local emergency room, urgent care center, or eye doctor and explain what happened. Be prepared to tell them which chemical is involved and what home treatment you’ve done already.

If your eye has redness and fuzzy vision, or you feel the injury is grave, go to the emergency room right after you rinse out the eye. It’s okay to put an ice pack or cold compress over the eye for comfort. Don’t rub the eye no matter what.

Chemical eye exposures may result in a minor or major injury, depending on the chemical and the degree of exposure. This kind of injury can result in vision loss and blindness. Always wear protective eye goggles when working with dangerous chemicals.

Swelling of the Eye

This typically occurs from a blow or an object moving at high speed, such as a football or baseball. It may or may not involve injury to the eye itself. If it doesn’t involve the actual eye and is just around the eye, this is called a black eye and will typically heal over several weeks.

However, you should still contact your eye doctor for advice to ensure there is no actual eye injury.

Subconjunctival Hemorrhages

These are painless, dramatic-looking areas of bleeding on the whites of the eyes. They are typically not serious and occur when blood vessels between the white of the eye and the conjunctiva break open. This eye condition is harmless and requires no treatment other than time.

Subconjunctival hemorrhages can occur from a minor injury and affect a small area or turn the entire white of the eye red. This will eventually heal after a few weeks.

Hyphemas and Orbital Fractures

A hyphema is bleeding in the eye between the cornea and the iris. An orbital blowout fracture involves the bony area surrounding the eye. They typically occur from powerful blunt force trauma, such as getting kicked or hit in the face.

When to Call Your Doctor

No matter how minor you may think it is, any eye injury warrants a call to your eye care professional. For obviously serious injuries, it’s best to go to the nearest emergency room for treatment. Your future vision may depend on getting treatment as soon as possible.

If you wear contact lenses, always mention this to the medical staff.

Find a Top Eye Doctor Near You

It’s always important to maintain a regular schedule of annual eye exams and other necessary treatment with one eye doctor who knows your medical problems and history. We can help you find an eye doctor like this for you in your area.

We work with highly trained eye doctors across the country. They will all welcome you as a new patient and look forward to helping you.

Published on: Apr 28, 2022
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