How to Deal With Eye Injuries

December 6, 2013

First Aid for Eyes

The natural structure of your face helps protect your eyes from injury. Still, injuries can damage your eye, sometimes severely enough that you could lose your vision. With proper protection, most injuries to the eye can be avoided.

Some sports and recreational 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 (no body contact or use of a ball, bat, or racquet)

In most cases, the injured person should be taken to an eye specialist or emergency room as quickly as possible. 

Eye Injuries in Worksplace


Avoid pressure on the injured eye.  Wait a few minutes for the pain to subside before trying to look at it.  If the eyeball is obviously torn open, do not try to manipulate the eye, since you can easily make matters worse.  If there is loose broken glass or foreign matter on the outside of the lids, you may remove it, but do not try to manipulate the eye to remove foreign objects if the injury looks serious.

Never rinse any seriously injured eye with boric acid or with anything else, and don’t apply any medications you might find in a first aid kit.  The only exception to this is a chemical injury in which copious irrigation with water is appropriate on the way to the Emergency Department.

If there is bleeding or a cut on the eyelids or face, soak a clean washcloth in ice water and wring it out.  Apply gently to the injured area.  If there is bleeding on the colored part of the eye, a cut on the lids or the eyeball, or if you have any doubt whatsoever as to the seriousness of the injury, call the doctor immediately and arrange for emergency care.  If your doctor is not available, go to an emergency room as quickly as possible.

In taking an injured person to an emergency room or hospital, gently cover the eye with an eye pad if possible (often found in first aid kits) and always avoid any pressure on the eye.  (You can protect the eye by taping a styrofoam cup over it).  The patient should lie flat to be transported to the hospital.

Prevent eye injures!  Do not buy spring-loaded or pop up toys or gadgets, or fireworks.  Always wear proper eye protection for sports or jobs that involve rotating, drilling, or cutting tools and for anything else that could present a danger to your eyes.

What to Do for Specific Injuries

FOREIGN BODIES (Such as specks, bits of dust, pieces of metal from power tools).

Do not rub the eye.  Try to blink out the foreign body or hold the eyelids open for a minute or so to stimulate tearing and let the tears wash it out.  If you can see the foreign body, you may try to gently pick it up with the folded, stiffened corner of a clean tissue.  If you can’t get it out easily, get professional help.

CORNEAL ABRASIONS (Scratches on the area over the colored iris).

  • Objects may scratch the surface of the eye (cornea) or become stuck on the eye. If the cornea  is scratched, it can be hard to tell whether the object has been removed, because a scratched cornea may feel painful and as though something is still in the eye. Most corneal scratches are minor and 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, grinding wheel, or any tool may strike the eye and possibly 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 and may require medical treatment.

Keep the eye closed.  For comfort, you may gently apply a cold compress.  Some of these require professionally applied eye patches.  See a doctor. 


Gently hold a cold compress (clean washcloth soaked in ice water and wrung out) to the eye region until you can get to a doctor or emergency room.


Gently place a bandage (or clean handkerchief or washcloth) over the lids to keep them closed.  Make sure you are not pressing hard against the eye.  Do not try to put any drops in the eye, and do not wash out the eye with water.  DO NOT try to remove an object stuck in the eye.  Get help as quickly as possible.

CHEMICALS IN THE EYE (Lye, ammonia, battery acids, spray cans, etc.)

Seconds are critical. The quicker the chemical is rinsed away or diluted, the less the probability of serious injury.  Go immediately to the nearest water source (faucet, garden hose, emergency shower) and hold head under the faucet or pour water into the eye using any clean container.  Flood the eye (beneath the lids, if you can) continuously and gently with clean water.  Look directly into the stream of water, hold the eyes open if needed, and roll the eyeball as much as possible.  Flush the eyes and face for at least 15 minutes.  The more water and the longer it is applied to the eye, the better.  Get help as soon as possible.

THERMAL (HEAT) BURNS (From fire, explosion, even a curling iron).

Mild burns can be treated with cold compresses until the patient can reach help.  Severe burns should be covered with sterile bandages, but do not apply lotion, creams, or other medications.  If pain is severe and help is far away, some relief may be obtained from very cold compresses using a clean cloth.

ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT BURNS (From welding, laser, or other radiant light).

Keep the eyes closed to avoid irritation, and get help (most burns require professional attention).  The eyes may feel “gritty”, sensitive to light, or get red and swollen, but pain probably won’t be felt until 4 to 12 hours later.

Certain Blue Laser Toys have recently been shown to cause eye injuries. Be careful not to direct the laser at your eyes or anyone else's. If you think you've been injured by a laser see your eyeMD as soon as possible.

Dr. Jeffrey Gold is an award winning surgeon and the medical director at Liberty Vision in Hamden CT