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Chemical Burns of the Eye

What are chemical burns of the eye?

Chemical burns happen when a chemical gets into your child’s eye.

What causes chemical burns of the eye?

Chemical burns of the eye are often caused by household cleaning products. Some common products that cause this type of injury include:

  • Toilet cleaner
  • Battery fluid
  • Pool cleaners
  • Bleaches
  • Vinegar
  • Glass polish

What are the symptoms of chemical burns of the eye?

Symptoms can happen a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Severe pain in the eye
  • Burning of the eye
  • Tearing of the eye

The symptoms of chemical burns of the eye may look like symptoms of other eye issues or health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a chemical burn of the eye diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s health history. He or she will also give your child an eye exam. Your child may get local numbing (anesthetic) eye drops for the exam.

How are chemical burns of the eye treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

This issue is an emergency. You should seek medical help right away if your child gets a chemical into his or her eye.

Most children with a chemical burn will be treated in the emergency room. An eye healthcare provider (ophthalmologist) will usually care for your child.

Treatment includes washing out your child’s eye with saline right away. This is done for about 30 minutes and sometimes longer depending on the type of chemical burn. Your child may get local numbing (anesthetic) drops into his or her eye to help ease the pain. The eye is usually held open with an instrument to make sure the saline gets into the eye. Some children may need to be sedated under general anesthesia.

What are the complications of chemical burns of the eye?

If a chemical burn of the eye isn’t treated right away, your child could have vision loss. Your child may even lose his or her eye.

Key points about chemical burns of the eye

  • Chemical burns happen when a chemical gets into your child’s eye. These burns are often caused by household cleaning products.
  • This is an emergency. You should seek medical help right away if your child gets a chemical into his or her eye.
  • Treatment includes washing your child’s eye out with saline right away. This should be done for about 30 minutes and sometimes longer depending on the type of chemical burn.
  • If a chemical burn of the eye isn’t treated right away, your child could have vision loss. Your child may even lose his or her eye.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Griggs, Paul B., MD
  • Taylor, Wanda, RN, Ph.D.