Management of Chemical Induced Eye Injury

It’s common for students to get injured by the chemicals they use in the lab. Most injuries involve the hands, however, sometimes a drop or splash of some chemical may enter the eye.

Such situations need to be attended like an emergency.

Common chemical that may cause injury include the ones that are commonly used, like glacial acetic acid, chloroform, hydrofluoric acid, or some gas.

Acid- As a general rule, acids cause considerable redness and burning. There action is immediate on the eye. However, they can be washed out easily as compared to other chemicals.

Alkali- Substances or chemicals that are basic (alkali) are much more dangerous. They don’t cause much immediate eye pain or redness as acids. However, slow damage caused inside the eye in their case can be more. Some examples of alkali substances are oven cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners and even chalk dust.


The affected eye may show the following symptoms:

  • Redness and watering from the affected eye.
  • Pain is there. It may be severe, may be tearing pain at one point inside the eye where the chemical had touched.
  • The eye may gradually swell up.
  • In severe cases, there may be blurring of of vision.
  • Some time after injury may show a small ulcer in the affected portion of the eye.

The size of ulcer and severity of injury would depend upon the strength of chemical that caused the injury.


As soon as possible, start washing the eye affected. Slightly warm tap water may be used for the purpose. Wash rinse the eye thoroughly to wash away the chemical. Around 10 minutes washing is required.

The pH of the eye usually gets disturbed. This disturbance can further damage the eye. If you can access isotonic saline, use it for further eye rinsing to restore back the eye pH.

Ice packs may be placed over the eye to reduce pain and swelling.

Cyclopegic medications may be used if there is eye pain. This include medicinal drops like atropine, which dilates (relaxes) the eye muscles and reduces pain.

Preferably, the eye needs to be closed and covered for 12 to 24 hours, depending upon the extent of injury. A black cloth may be used for the purpose, to avoid light exposure.

This is done because the injured eye is vulnerable to infections from outside.

Medicines to Be Used

  • Start instilling an anti inflammatory eye drops (like prednisolone) twice or thrice per day. This would help subsiding pain and swelling in the eye. Also, this is essential to prevent potential scarring in the eye.
  • Antibiotic eye drops are also used. This is used as  a prophylaxis against infections, as the injured eye is prone to infections.
  • If there is an ulcer, visit an ophthalmologist to appropriate treatment of the ulcer.

Preventing Eye Injury

While working in the laboratory, be careful. Hold the chemical at a distance from the eye. Do not place it too close to the eye.

Don’t haste, be slow. Handling chemicals is always hazardous.

Rush to get tap water for liberal eye wash if it enters the eye. This would minimize eye injury.

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