Many soaps, shampoos, and perfumes cause some burning in the eye. Flushing these products out of the eye quickly usually prevents any permanent damage or other problems. Other products also contain chemicals that can cause the eyes to burn. Predictably, pepper spray causes a burning sensation in the eyes. But so do car air bags, which contain chemicals that can cause the eyes to burn when the air bag inflates. Chemical particles can also become stuck in the eye.
Acid products—including toilet cleaners, battery acid, bleach, chemicals used in industry for crystal etching, and chemicals that are added to gas—can cause burning in the eye and possibly more severe damage. The damage is usually kept to the area of contact and does not normally cause damage deep in the tissue.
Alkaline products—including lime products, plaster and mortar, oven and drain cleaners, fertilizers, liquid or powder dishwasher soap, and sparks from "sparklers"—can quickly cause serious damage. Alkaline chemicals are able to penetrate and damage the deeper layers of tissue.
Acid and alkali burns can cause mild to severe problems, depending on the type, strength, and the length of time the chemical is in contact with the body. Immediately flush the eye with large amounts of water for 30 minutes. Pull the lower lid away from the eye and flush out this area.
If you are wearing contacts, remove them before flushing your eye. If you are not able to remove the contacts, flush with your contacts in.
Call a poison control center for more information about how to treat the burn. When you call the poison control center, have the chemical container with you, so you can read the content label to the poison control person.
Glue causes problems when it gets into the eye because the treatment for removing it may cause more damage to the eye. Many water-based glues can be flushed out of the eye with water. Superglue needs special medical attention. Start flushing your eye with water and call your doctor to arrange for your care. An eye specialist (ophthalmologist) may be needed to treat this type of injury. If you are unable to reach your doctor, go to the nearest emergency room to have your eye examined.
Current as of: June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine