It is crucial to know how to provide first aid for eye injuries. They can occur in various situations, such as sports, accidents, or at work, and knowing the proper first aid techniques to treat most eye injuries can prevent further damage to minor eye injuries and even save someone’s vision. If your eye injury is serious seek medical assistance or call triple zero (000) immediately.
Eye injuries can happen to anyone, but they are more common in people who work with tools or machinery. Think moving parts, sparks, flying debris, chemicals and even radiation. These and other common causes can result in an injured eye due to a sharp object, chemical burns, orbital fractures or a kind of penetrating eye injury.
Similarly, sports (of the contact variety in particular) and other recreational activities can also cause eye injuries. Think balls flying, bats being swung and people falling to the ground — all ample opportunities for foreign objects to injure the eye surface, for a blow to trigger retinal detachment or for the bones surrounding the area to suffer fracture.
Eye injuries can range from a black eye to stuck contact lenses to even blindness. It’s important to protect your eyes: wear protective safety glasses, a face shield or goggles, and if you or someone you know suffers an eye injury apply first aid immediately while waiting for further medical care from a healthcare professional. How to approach a first aid situation like this is covered in the HLTAID011 first aid course.
Signs and Symptoms of Eye Injuries
Delaying treatment for an eye injury can lead to further irritation and potentially vision loss, so swift action is necessary if you or someone you know displays any of the following symptoms:
Pain and/or discomfort: The most obvious sign, is a sudden pain or discomfort that lingers for an extended period and can’t just be slept off. Causes can be obvious and accompany visual cues like bleeding or red eyes, or the cause could be unclear.
Redness and swelling: Another symptom that is easy to spot on others, redness and/or swelling around the eyes could be an indication of a blunt force trauma or irritation of the skin, both of which need addressing due to the proximity to the sensitive eye area. Causes can range from blunt force to chemical splash.
Blurred or decreased vision: One of the most alarming signs, sudden or slow deterioration of vision can take people by surprise, and can often be a symptom of a more dangerous underlying condition. If you experience sudden blurry vision or other decreased vision problems, see a doctor immediately.
Sensitivity to light: Like when someone turns on a bright light suddenly and your eyes have to quickly adjust, but without the obvious cause and persisting for an extended period. Don’t hide behind sunglasses, see a doctor.
Many of these symptoms are a result of an obvious cause, like a sporting injury, but sometimes the cause isn’t immediately clear. Take careful note of any other symptoms the person is showing and describe them to emergency services when you contact them.
First Aid for Eye Injuries
If you get dangerous chemicals or foreign objects in your eye, don’t rub it. This is the first and most important step. Easier said than done when the eye is such a sensitive and vulnerable area, but exercising this self-control now will pay dividends.
You should leave treating eye injuries and chemical burns to a doctor and not attempt any kind of surgery on yourself, but in the event of an embedded object or chemical burn, there are some initial steps you can take to prevent more damage.
Here is what you should do in the event of an eye injury:
Wash hands thoroughly before touching the eye to prevent the transfer of any bacteria. This may be difficult if you are the person who has sustained the eye injury and it is painful or bleeding (or both), but you should endeavour to prevent further bacterial transfer. Keeping hand sanitiser nearby when you are working in an environment where eye injury is possible can be helpful for this purpose.
Do not rub or apply pressure to the eye, even if it is bleeding. Unlike other bleeding injuries where pressure can be beneficial, rubbing your eye can further embed the foreign object — instead, flush the eye with clean water or a sterile saline solution. A saline solution is a mixture of salt and water, please note a fine grade of salt is preferred. Do not attempt to flush the eye with rock salt.
If there is a cut or puncture to the eye, gently cover it with a sterile bandage, cloth or eye patch and present yourself at the nearest emergency room.
If for whatever reason one eye has been dislodged from the eye socket, do not attempt to force it back in. Assuming it is still connected by the optic nerve, it will not go flying like a champagne cork, but instead simply hang very close to the socket. Do not touch it, call 000 and follow the operator’s instructions while you wait for medical help.
If you get chemical burns in your eye, such as from household cleaning products, flush it out with water for at least 15 minutes with either clean water or a saline solution. You should still either follow the instructions on the packaging, which usually suggest calling the Poisons Hotline, or seek medical attention.
If you have contact lenses stuck in your eye under the upper lid or lower lid, blinking repeatedly and flushing with a saline solution should be your first steps. If these methods are insufficient and you can reach the contact, use the pad of your (hopefully clean) finger to massage the eye through the closed lid where the lens is stuck. For a contact lens that still won’t come out, contact your doctor.
If you experience sudden vision loss or severe pain in your eye, it’s imperative you seek medical attention immediately. Blindness is permanent, and its common causes are primarily age-related diseases. However, any kind of eye damage, specifically of a chemical nature or damage to the retina, can also contribute to loss of vision. Treatment in the event of vision loss can often preserve remaining sight, but in many cases, it cannot restore vision that has been lost, which is why it is critical to see a doctor at the earliest sign.
Prevention of Eye Injuries
Eye injuries can be intense — after all, it’s one of the most sensitive and vulnerable organs, the source of one of our most crucial senses — but most eye injuries can also be prevented by taking simple safety precautions.
First and foremost: wear eye protection. This cannot be overstated. Wearing protective eyewear like safety glasses or goggles is the simplest change you can make that can go a long way towards preventing debris or chemicals from entering the eyes and causing injury.
Another general change you can make in your life is to maintain good eye health by getting regular eye exams and following a healthy diet.
By taking these first two steps, you can reduce the risk of eye injuries and maintain good vision for years to come. Here are some more specific tips to consider next time you put your eyes at risk of injury:
Safety first — wear protective eyewear when engaging in activities that pose a risk of eye injury, but specifically consider proper eye protection from sources of light, such as proper welding goggles and eclipse-viewing glasses.
Keep hazardous chemicals and objects out of reach, especially out of reach of children. This could be more of a general safety tip for life, but children can pull objects onto themselves when reaching for things on top of counters or on shelves. This puts them at risk. Small hands can see the handle of a pot hanging outwards from the stove and will reach for it, not knowing it has boiling water in it.
Washing your hands frequently and not rubbing your eyes when your hands are unclean is not just a good way to prevent a possible infection. Consider the consequences of the transfer of chilli oil from the hands (because maybe you were preparing food) to the eyeball, now imagine a harmful chemical (because maybe you were using it cleaning) and you have a recipe for chemical burns.
Use caution when handling sharp or hot objects or tools, like when welding, setting off fireworks or striking heated metal. Ingress of a sharp or hot object can result in more than just a swollen eyelid.
Final Thoughts on Eye Injuries
Eye injuries can quickly become very serious, requiring prompt medical attention. Knowing how to administer first aid can prevent further damage, but always seek medical attention if you are unsure or if symptoms persist.
Acting swiftly in the event of an eye injury is about more than just relieving pain, but also about making the right decisions that could potentially save someone’s vision. It’s also important to take precautions to prevent eye injuries and seek medical attention if necessary.