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Eye Injuries

Overview

It's common for a speck of dirt to get blown into your eye, for soap to wash into your eye, or for you to accidentally bump your eye. For these types of minor eye injuries, home treatment is usually all that's needed.

Some sports and activities increase the risk of eye injuries.

  • Very high-risk sports include boxing, wrestling, and martial arts.
  • High-risk sports include baseball, football, tennis, fencing, and squash.
  • Low-risk sports include swimming and gymnastics. (There's no body contact or use of a ball, bat, or racquet.)

Blows to the eye

Direct blows to the eye can damage the skin and other tissues around the eye, the eyeball, or the bones of the eye socket. Blows to the eye often cause bruising around the eye (black eye) or cuts to the eyelid. If a blow to the eye or a cut to the eyelid occurred during an accident, be sure to check for injuries to the eyeball itself. And check for other injuries, especially to the head or face. Concern about an eye injury may cause you to miss other injuries that need care.

Burns to the eye

Burns to the eye may be caused by chemicals, fumes, hot air or steam, sunlight, tanning lamps, electric hair curlers or dryers, or welding equipment. Bursts of flames or flash fires from stoves or explosives can also burn the face and eyes.

  • Chemical burns can occur if a solid chemical, liquid chemical, or chemical fumes get into the eye. Many substances won't cause damage if they are flushed out of the eye quickly. Acids (such as bleach or battery acid) and alkali substances (such as oven cleansers or fertilizers) can damage the eye. It may take 24 hours after the burn to know how serious an eye burn may be. Chemical fumes and vapors can also irritate the eyes.
  • Flash burns to the cornea can occur from a source of radiation like the sun or lights. Bright sunlight can burn your eyes if you don't wear sunglasses that filter out ultraviolet (UV) light. These burns are most likely when the sun reflects off snow or water. Eyes that aren't protected by a mask can be burned by exposure to the high-intensity light of a welder's equipment (torch or arc). The eyes also may be injured by other bright lights, such as from tanning booths or sunlamps.

Foreign objects in the eye

A foreign object in the eye, such as dirt, an eyelash, a contact lens, or makeup, can cause eye symptoms.

  • Objects may scratch the surface of the eye (cornea) or get stuck on the eye. If the cornea is scratched, it can be hard to tell if the object has been removed. That's because a scratched cornea may feel painful. It may feel like something is still in the eye. Most of these scratches are minor and will heal on their own in 1 or 2 days.
  • Small or sharp objects traveling at high speeds can cause serious injury to many parts of the eyeball. Objects flying from a lawn mower, a grinding wheel, or any tool may strike the eye and could puncture the eyeball. Injury may cause bleeding between the iris and cornea (hyphema), a change in the size or shape of the pupil, or damage to the structures inside the eyeball. These objects may be deep in the eye. They may need medical treatment.

In the case of a car air bag inflating, all three types of eye injuries can occur. The force of impact can cause a blow to the eye, foreign objects may enter the eye, and chemicals in the air bag can burn the eye.

You can prevent eye injuries by using protective eyewear. Wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields when you work with power tools or chemicals. And use this eyewear when you do any activity that might cause an object or substance to get into your eyes. Some professions, such as health care and construction, may require workers to use protective eyewear to reduce the risk of foreign objects or substances or body fluids getting in the eyes. If you have sight in only one eye, wear a sports eye protector under a face shield for added protection.

After an eye injury, you need to watch for vision changes and symptoms of an infection. Vision changes include flashes of light (photopsia) and new floaters. Signs of infection include pain and blurred vision. Most minor eye injuries can be treated at home.

Check Your Symptoms

Have you had an eye injury within the past week?
Yes
Eye injury within past week
No
Eye injury within past week
How old are you?
Less than 4 years
Less than 4 years
4 years or older
4 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female

The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.

  • If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
  • If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
  • If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Do you have a heat or chemical burn to the eye?
Yes
Heat or chemical burn to eye
No
Heat or chemical burn to eye
Is there a cut to the area around the eye (but not to the eyelid or to the eye itself)?
Yes
Cut in eye area
No
Cut in eye area
Has an object punctured or gone through the surface of the eyeball?
If the object is still there, do not try to remove it, and do not put any pressure on or around it.
Yes
Object punctured or penetrated the eyeball
No
Object punctured or penetrated the eyeball
Does the eye look like it is in the wrong place in the eye socket?
This could mean that the eyeball is bulging out of the socket, has sunken deeper in the socket, or does not seem to be in its normal position.
Yes
Eye is in wrong place in socket
No
Eye is in wrong place in socket
Is the eye bulging out of the socket?
Yes
Eye is bulging out of socket
No
Eye is bulging out of socket
Have you had any new vision changes?
These could include vision loss, double vision, or new trouble seeing clearly.
Yes
New vision changes
No
New vision changes
Did you have a sudden loss of vision?
A loss of vision means that you cannot see out of the eye or out of some part of the eye. The vision in that area is gone.
Yes
Sudden vision loss
No
Sudden vision loss
Do you still have vision loss?
Yes
Vision loss still present
No
Vision loss still present
Did the vision loss occur within the past day?
Yes
Vision loss occurred in the past day
No
Vision loss occurred in the past day
Have you had double vision?
Yes
Double vision
No
Double vision
Are you seeing double now?
Yes
Double vision now present
No
Double vision now present
Did the double vision occur within the past day?
Yes
Double vision occurred in the past day
No
Double vision occurred in the past day
Are you having trouble seeing?
This means you are having new problems reading ordinary print or seeing things at a distance.
Yes
Decreased vision
No
Decreased vision
Do you have any eye pain?
Yes
Eye pain
No
Eye pain
How bad is the pain on a scale of 0 to 10, if 0 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain you can imagine?
8 to 10: Severe pain
Severe eye pain
5 to 7: Moderate pain
Moderate eye pain
1 to 4: Mild pain
Mild eye pain
Has there been a change in the size or shape of the pupil (the black center of the eye)?
Yes
Pupil changes after injury
No
Pupil changes after injury
Are the eyes moving normally?
Examples of abnormal movement include the eyes not moving together or not looking in the same direction.
Yes
Eyes moving normally
No
Eyes not moving normally
Do you suspect that the injury may have been caused by abuse?
This is a standard question that we ask in certain topics. It may not apply to you. But asking it of everyone helps us to get people the help they need.
Yes
Injury may have been caused by abuse
No
Injury may have been caused by abuse
Is there an object in the eye now?
If the object hit the eye at a high speed or is a piece of metal, do not try to remove it.
Yes
Object in eye
No
Object in eye
Did the object hit the eye at high speed?
With high speeds, there is a high risk of serious eye injury even if the symptoms seem minor.
Yes
Object hit eye at high speed
No
Object hit eye at high speed
Is there any metal in the eye?
Yes
Metal in eye
No
Metal in eye
Can you easily remove the object from the eye?
If the object is on the surface of the eye, you may be able to remove it safely. Do not try to remove the object if it is metal.
Yes
Able to remove object in eye
No
Unable to remove object in eye
Have you noticed new floaters or an increasing number of floaters?
Floaters look like dark specks, strings, or cobwebs that float through the eye.
Yes
New or increasing floaters
No
New or increasing floaters
Was there a sudden shower of floaters?
Yes
Sudden shower of floaters
No
Sudden shower of floaters
Have you noticed flashes of light that are new or different from any you have had before?
Yes
Flashes of light
No
Flashes of light
Did the flashes of light start suddenly?
Yes
Sudden flashes of light
No
Sudden flashes of light
Does light make your eyes hurt?
Yes
Sensitivity to light
No
Sensitivity to light
Does the light hurt so much that you have trouble opening your eyes?
Yes
Hard to open eyes because of discomfort with light
No
Hard to open eyes because of discomfort with light
Does it feel like there is something in the eye?
This is worse than the eye feeling gritty or a little irritated. This actually may make it hard to keep the eye open.
Yes
Feels like something is in eye
No
Feels like something is in eye
Is it very hard or impossible to open the eye because of the discomfort?
Yes
Hard to open eye because of discomfort with feeling something in eye
No
Hard to open eye because of discomfort with feeling something in eye
Is there any redness in the part of the eye that's usually white?
This does not include a blood spot on the eye.
Yes
Redness in part of eye that's usually white
No
Redness in part of eye that's usually white
Is there any blood in the eye?
This includes blood spots on the surface of the eye.
Yes
Blood spot or blood in eye
No
Blood spot or blood in eye
Is there any blood in the colored part of the eye?
Blood that is only in the white part of the eye is usually not as serious as blood in the colored part of the eye.
Yes
Blood is in colored part of eye
No
Blood is in colored part of eye
Does the blood cover more than one-fourth of the white part of the eye?
Yes
Blood covers more than one-fourth of white of the eye
No
Blood covers more than one-fourth of white of the eye
Is the blood spot getting bigger or is the amount of blood increasing?
Yes
Blood spot or amount of blood is growing
No
Blood spot or amount of blood is growing
Do you think the eyelid or the skin around the eye may be infected?
Symptoms could include redness, pus, increasing pain, or a lot of swelling. (A small bump or pimple on the eyelid, called a stye, usually is not a problem.) You might also have a fever.
Yes
Symptoms of infection around eye
No
Symptoms of infection around eye
Do you think you may have a fever?
Yes
Possible fever
No
Possible fever
Do you have diabetes or a weakened immune system?
What weakens the immune system in an adult or older child may be different than in a young child or baby.
Yes
Diabetes or immune problem
No
Diabetes or immune problem
Is there any pus coming from the area around the eye (not from the eye itself)?
Yes
Pus from area around eye
No
Pus from area around eye
Is there any swelling around the eye?
Yes
Swelling around eye
No
Swelling around eye
Is the swelling so severe that you cannot see out of the eye?
Yes
Severe swelling around eye
No
Severe swelling around eye
Is the swelling getting worse?
Yes
Swelling around eye is getting worse
No
Swelling around eye is getting worse
Do you have any other symptoms you're concerned about?
Yes
Other symptoms of concern
No
Other symptoms of concern

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

Pain in adults and older children

  • Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
  • Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days. Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's there.
  • Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain, but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.

Pain in children under 3 years

It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.

  • Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or grimace.
  • Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds when you try to comfort him or her.
  • Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds when you try to comfort him or her.

There are a couple of ways to safely remove an object from the eye.

Do not try to remove:

  • Any object made of metal.
  • Any object that has punctured the eye.

To remove a nonmetal object that is on the surface of the eye or inside the eyelid:

  • Wash your hands before you touch the eye.
  • Try to gently flush out the object with water.
  • If the object is on the white part of the eye or inside the lower lid, wet a cotton swab or the tip of a twisted piece of tissue and touch the end to the object. The object should cling to the swab or tissue.
  • Do not use tweezers, toothpicks, or other hard items to remove an object.

Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Long-term alcohol and drug problems.
  • Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety of conditions.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Other medicines used to treat autoimmune disease.
  • Medicines taken after organ transplant.
  • Not having a spleen.

Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and congenital heart disease.
  • Steroid medicines, which are used to treat a variety of conditions.
  • Medicines taken after organ transplant.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Not having a spleen.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.

  • Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
  • You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
    • You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
    • You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.

Make an Appointment

Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.

  • Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
  • If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
  • If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
Burns to the Eye
Cuts

Self-Care

Most minor eye injuries can be treated at home.

  • Use a sterile bandage or cloth.
    • If you have a cut on your eyelid, apply a sterile bandage to protect the area. If you don't have a sterile bandage, use a clean cloth.
    • Don't use fluffy cotton bandages around the eye. They could tear apart and get stuck in the eye.
    • Keep the bandage clean and dry.
  • Reduce swelling.
    • To reduce swelling around the eye, apply ice or cold packs for 15 minutes 3 or 4 times a day during the first 48 hours after the injury. The sooner you apply a cold pack, the less swelling you are likely to have. Place a cloth between the ice and your skin.
    • Keep your head elevated. This helps reduce swelling.
    • After the swelling goes down, try warm compresses to help relieve pain.
    • Don't use chemical cooling packs on or near the eye. If the pack leaks, the chemicals could cause more eye damage.
    • Don't use a piece of raw meat on an injured eye.
  • Use pain medicine.

    Try a nonprescription pain medicine such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin to relieve pain. It's not recommended that you take aspirin if you are age 20 or younger.

  • Get more help for children.
    • Having another adult help you treat the child is a good idea. Using first aid for an eye injury in a child may be hard. It depends on the child's age, size, and ability to cooperate.
    • Stay calm, and talk in a soothing voice. Use slow, gentle movements to help the child stay calm and cooperative. A struggling child may need to be held strongly so that first aid can be started and so that you can assess how serious the eye injury is.

If you are concerned that your eye symptoms may be more serious, you may need to check with your doctor.

Using a cold pack

Ice and cold packs can reduce the pain, swelling, and bleeding of an injury. Cold therapy is usually used immediately after an injury.

For an eye injury, use one of the following methods:

Ice towel.

Wet a towel with cold water and squeeze it until it is just damp. Fold the towel, place it in a plastic bag, and freeze it for 15 minutes. Remove the towel from the bag and place it on the eye. Use this method when an ice pack is too heavy to put on the eye.

Ice pack.

Place ice in a plastic, leak-proof bag wrapped in a single layer of cloth, such as a towel or washcloth. The ice can be cracked into small pieces to make the pack more flexible. Do not place ice directly on the skin.

Frozen food pack.

Use a small bag of frozen peas or corn wrapped in a towel.

Do not use chemical cooling packs. If the pack leaks, the chemicals could cause more eye damage. Do not use a raw piece of meat on a black eye.

When to call for help during self-care

Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:

  • Vision changes, such as blurred vision, loss of vision, or double vision.
  • Pain or drainage that does not get better.
  • New blood in the eye.
  • New sensitivity to light.
  • New signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, pus, or a fever.
  • Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.

Learn more

Preparing For Your Appointment

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: January 24, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine

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