Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.
It's common for a speck of dirt to get blown into your eye, for soap to wash into your eye, or for you to accidentally bump your eye. For these types of minor eye injuries, home treatment is usually all that is needed.
See a picture of the eye.
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).
Blows to the eye
Direct blows to the eye can damage the skin and other tissues around the eye, the eyeball, or the bones of the eye socket. Blows to the eye often cause bruising around the eye (black eye) or cuts to the eyelid. If a blow to the eye or a cut to the eyelid occurred during an accident, be sure to check for injuries to the eyeball itself and for other injuries, especially to the head or face. Concern about an eye injury may cause you to miss other injuries that need attention.
Burns to the eye
Burns to the eye may be caused by chemicals, fumes, hot air or steam, sunlight, tanning lamps, electric hair curlers or dryers, or welding equipment. Bursts of flames or flash fires from stoves or explosives can also burn the face and eyes.
- Chemical burns can occur if a solid chemical, liquid chemical, or chemical fumes get into the eye. Many substances will not cause damage if they are flushed out of the eye quickly. Acids (such as bleach or battery acid) and alkali substances (such as oven cleansers or fertilizers) can damage the eye. It may take 24 hours after the burn to determine the seriousness of an eye burn. Chemical fumes and vapors can also irritate the eyes.
- Flash burns to the cornea can occur from a source of radiation like the sun or lights. Bright sunlight (especially when the sun is reflecting off snow or water) can burn your eyes if you don't wear sunglasses that filter out ultraviolet (UV) light. Eyes that are not protected by a mask can be burned by exposure to the high-intensity light of a welder's equipment (torch or arc). The eyes also may be injured by other bright lights, such as from tanning booths or sunlamps.
For more information, see the topic Burns to the Eye.
Foreign objects in the eye
A foreign object in the eye, such as dirt, an eyelash, a contact lens, or makeup, can cause eye symptoms.
- 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.
In the case of a car air bag inflating, all three types of eye injuries can occur. The force of impact can cause a blow to the eye, foreign objects may enter the eye, and chemicals in the air bag can burn the eye.
Eye injuries can be prevented by using protective eyewear. Wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields when working with power tools or chemicals or when doing any activity that might cause an object or substance to get into your eyes. Some professions, such as health care and construction, may require workers to use protective eyewear to reduce the risk of foreign objects or substances or body fluids getting in the eyes.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Check Your Symptoms
The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.
- If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
- If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
- If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
- Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
- Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
- Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
- Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
- Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
- Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
- Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.
Pain in adults and older children
- Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
- Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days. Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's there.
- Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain, but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
- Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or grimace.
- Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds when you try to comfort him or her.
- Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds when you try to comfort him or her.
There are a couple of ways to safely remove an object from the eye.
Do not try to remove:
- Any object made of metal.
- Any object that has punctured the eye.
To remove a nonmetal object that is on the surface of the eye or inside the eyelid:
- Wash your hands before you touch the eye.
- Try to gently flush out the object with water.
- If the object is on the white part of the eye or inside the lower lid, wet a cotton swab or the tip of a twisted piece of tissue and touch the end to the object. The object should cling to the swab or tissue.
- Do not use tweezers, toothpicks, or other hard items to remove an object.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
- Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
- Long-term alcohol and drug problems.
- Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety of conditions.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
- Other medicines used to treat autoimmune disease.
- Medicines taken after organ transplant.
- Not having a spleen.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:
- Diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and congenital heart disease.
- Steroid medicines, which are used to treat a variety of conditions.
- Medicines taken after organ transplant.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
- Not having a spleen.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
- Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
- You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
- You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
- You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Call 911 Now
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
- Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
- If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
- If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.
Make an Appointment
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
- Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
- If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
- If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
Most minor eye injuries can be treated at home.
- If you have a cut on your eyelid, apply a sterile bandage or cloth to protect the area. If you don't have a sterile bandage, use a clean cloth. Do not use fluffy cotton bandages around the eye. They could tear apart and get stuck in the eye. Keep the bandage clean and dry.
- To reduce swelling around the eye, apply ice or cold packs for 15 minutes 3 or 4 times a day during the first 48 hours after the injury. The sooner you apply a cold pack, the less swelling you are likely to have. Place a cloth between the ice and your skin. After the swelling goes down, warm compresses may help relieve pain.
- Do not use chemical cooling packs on or near the eye. If the pack leaks, the chemicals could cause more eye damage. Do not use a piece of raw meat on an injured eye.
- Keep your head elevated to help reduce swelling.
- Try a nonprescription pain medicine such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin to relieve pain. Do not take aspirin if you are younger than 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
More specific home treatment can be used for certain types of eye injuries.
If your eye symptoms are not completely gone after 24 hours of home treatment, see your doctor.
Eye injury in a child
Applying first aid measures for an eye injury in a child may be difficult, depending on the child's age, size, and ability to cooperate. Having another adult help you treat the child is helpful. Stay calm and talk in a soothing voice. Use slow, gentle movements to help the child remain calm and cooperative. A struggling child may need to be held strongly so that first aid can be started and the seriousness of the eye injury assessed.
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
- Decreased, double, or blurred vision doesn't clear with blinking.
- Pain has not gotten better.
- Blood develops over the colored part (iris) of the eye.
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia) develops.
- Signs of infection develop.
- Symptoms become more severe or more frequent.
If you wear contacts, be sure to remove your contacts.
The following tips may help prevent eye injuries.
- Wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields when you hammer nails or metal, work with power tools or chemicals, or do any activity that might cause a burn to your eyes. If you work with hazardous chemicals that could splash into your eyes, know how to flush chemicals out, and know the location of the nearest shower or sink.
- If you are welding or are near someone else who is welding, wear a mask or goggles designed for welding.
- Wear protective eyewear during sports such as hockey, racquetball, or paintball that involve the risk of a blow to the eye. Baseball is the most common sport to cause eye injuries. Fishhook injuries are another common cause of eye injuries. Protective eyewear can prevent sports-related eye injuries more than 90% of the time. An eye examination may be helpful in determining what type of protective eyewear is needed.
- Injuries from ultraviolet (UV) light can be prevented by wearing sunglasses that block ultraviolet (UV) rays and by wearing broad-brimmed hats. Be aware that the eye can be injured from sun glare during boating, sunbathing, or skiing. Use eye protection while you are under tanning lamps or using tanning booths.
- Wear your seat belt when in a motor vehicle. Use child car seats.
Prevention tips for children
Eye injuries are common in children, and many can be prevented. Most eye injuries happen in older children. They happen more often in boys than in girls. Toys—from crayons to toy guns—are a major source of injury, so check all toys for sharp or pointed parts. Household items, such as elastic cords, can also strike the eye and cause injury.
Teach your children about eye safety.
- Be a good role model—always wear proper eye protection.
- Get protective eyewear for your children, and help them use it properly.
- Teach children that flying toys should never be pointed at another person.
- Teach children how to carry sharp or pointed objects properly.
- Teach children that any kind of missile, projectile, or BB gun is not a toy.
- Use safety measures near fires and explosives, such as campfires and fireworks.
- Do not let your child use laser pointers or laser toys. These can cause permanent eye damage if the laser is pointed at the eye.
Any eye injury that appears unusual for a child's age should be evaluated as possible child abuse.
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
If you have had an eye injury that affects your vision, have someone else drive you to your doctor. If you are wearing contact lenses, remove them and take your glasses with you.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions.
- What are your main symptoms? How long have you had your symptoms?
- How and when did the injury occur?
- Have you had any injuries in the past to the same eye? Do you have any continuing problems because of the previous injury?
- Is there a foreign object in the eye? What is the object? Did it fall into the eye or did it fly into the eye at high speed?
- What type of substance was splashed into your eye? How and when did it happen? Take the container with you.
- How did the heat (thermal) burn occur?
- How did the ultraviolet (UV) light burn occur?
- Do you wear glasses or contacts? Did you remove your contact lens? Has the injury affected your vision (as corrected with glasses or contacts)?
- What kind of vision changes are you having (not related to removing your eyeglasses or contact lenses)?
- What home treatment have you tried? Did you flush your eye with water for 30 minutes as a first aid measure? Did it help?
- What prescription or nonprescription medicines have you used? Did they help?
- Were drugs or alcohol involved in your injury?
- Do you have any health risks?
Current as of: October 19, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.