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  • Recognizing and Treating Eye Injuries

    Reviewed By William Barry Lee, MD
    Edited By David Turbert
    Published Apr. 10, 2023

    Take All Eye Injuries Seriously

    You can't always tell when an eye is injured. Some injuries are only obvious when they get really serious. 

    Eye injuries can cause vision loss or blindness. That's why having aophthalmologist or other medical doctor examine the eye as soon as possible is important, even if the injury seems minor at first. DO NOT attempt to treat a serious eye injury yourself.

    Common causes of eye injuries include:

    Common Symptoms of Eye Injury

    If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone else, get medical help right away. These are signs of possibly serious eye injury:

    • Ongoing pain in the eye
    • Trouble seeing
    • Cut or torn eyelid
    • One eye does not move as well as the other
    • One eye sticks out of the eye socket farther than the other
    • The eye has an unusual pupil size or shape
    • There is blood in the clear part of the eye
    • The person has something in the eye or under the eyelid that tears and blinking can't remove

    First Aid Treatment for Eye Injuries

    Eye Scratches

    Many people have scratched their eye at some point, or had their eye scratched by a pet, baby or home improvement project. We've put together a separate page all about first aid for eye scratches.

    If You Get Sand or Other Small Particles in Your Eye

    Getting sand, dirt, dust or other small natural particles in your eye is usually not an emergency. Our eyes are very good at flushing out these kinds of particles with tears and blinking. Let your eyes try to take care of the particles naturally before doing anything else.

    If you've gotten metal, glass or other man-made materials in your eye, that can be more serious. These kinds of objects can become embedded in the surface of the eye and cause ongoing irritation and more damage.

    • DO NOT rub the eye.
    • Blink several times and allow tears to flush out the particle.
    • Lift the upper eyelid over the lashes of your lower lid to let the eyelashes try to brush the particle out.
    • Use eyewash, saline solution or running tap water to flush the eye out.
    • See a doctor or go to the emergency room as soon as possible If you can't get the particles out of your eye or if it still feels like there’s something in your eye after you've gotten the material out.

    If You Get Hit in the Eye

    • Gently apply a small cold compress to reduce pain and swelling.
    • Don't use steaks or other food items. These can get bacteria into the eye.
    • DO NOT apply any pressure.
    • If a black eye, pain or visual disturbance occurs even after a light blow, immediately contact your ophthalmologist or emergency room. Even a light blow can cause a significant eye injury, like a retinal detachment.

    If Your Eye Has Been Cut or Punctured

    • Gently place a shield (protective cover) over the eye. The bottom of a paper cup taped to the bones surrounding the eye can serve as a shield until you get medical attention.
    • Do not press the shield against the eye.
    • DO NOT rinse with water.
    • DO NOT remove any objects that are stuck in the eye.
    • DO NOT rub or apply pressure to eye.
    • Don't take aspirin, ibuprofen or other non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs thin the blood and may increase bleeding.
    • After you have finished protecting the eye, get emergency medical help.

    Chemical Burns and Splashes In the Eye

    • Immediately flush the eye with plenty of clean water.
    • Seek emergency medical treatment right away.
    • Look for information on the chemical that got into the eye as some chemicals cause more eye damage than others.

    For All Other Eye Injuries

    Injuries other than grit in the eye or small scratches to the eye should be considered potentially serious.

    • DO NOT touch, rub or apply pressure to the eye.
    • DO NOT try to remove any objects stuck in the eye.
    • Do not apply ointment or medication to the eye.
    • Over-the-counter eye drops can be more painful or make the injury worse.
    • Prescription medications should only be used for exactly the condition they were prescribed for, not for emergency treatment.
    • See a doctor as soon as possible.
    • If you can't get to an ophthalmologist right away, go to the emergency room.