Chemical Eye Burns

Chemical eye burns fall into three categories based upon acidic or alkaline level, measured in pH. The pH scale ranges from 0-14 and indicates how acidic or basic a substance is. The pH of 7 is neutral; the pH of healthy tears is 7.5. A pH less than 7 is acidic while a pH greater than 7 is basic. 

The severity of the burn depends on the chemical, as well as the amount that comes into contact with the eye. Fortunately, the vast majority of burns that is either caustic or acidic are treatable and cause only temporary discomfort.

The three categories of chemical eye burns are:

  • Alkali Burns: These burns involve high pH chemicals, and thus are the most dangerous. They are powerful enough to penetrate the eye, and cause damage to its vital inner components. In the worst cases, they can lead to conditions like cataracts and glaucoma and may cause vision loss or blindness.

  • Acid Burns: Lower pH burns may be less serious than alkali burns, but still dangerous. These burns are unable to penetrate the eye, but still may cause significant damage to the cornea, with the potential to cause vision loss.

  • Irritants: These are chemicals that have a neutral pH.

What Causes Chemical Eye Burns?

Most commonly, they occur in industrial workplaces where chemicals are present, and at home with common household cleaning products.

Symptoms of Chemical Eye Burns

Vision loss is indicative of a severe chemical eye burn. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Eye redness

  • Eye irritation

  • Eye pain

  • Swelling of the eye

  • Blurred vision

  • Inability to open the eye

  • Feeling of foreign objects in the eye

Treatments for Chemical Eye Burns

The most important thing to do when experiencing an eye burn is to get the chemical out of the eyes. A special chemical eye wash station is the best way to do this; however, if the burn is not experienced at work, tap water is a viable option. To treat a chemical eye burn:

  • Flush the eyes out with water for at least 15 minutes

  • As you rinse, use your fingers to hold your eye open as wide as possible and roll your eye to ensure  the greatest coverage

In cases of severe burns, call 911 and flush your eyes out until help arrives.