SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center
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Eye Injuries

Eye injuries are the most common preventable cause of blindness. While many minor eye irritations can be treated at home by flushing the eye with water, more serious injuries need medical attention. So when in doubt, err on the side of caution and call your doctor for help.

What to Do:

Routine Irritations

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before touching the eyelids to examine or flush the eye.
  • Do not touch, press, or rub the eye itself, and do whatever you can to keep your child from touching it (a baby can be swaddled to prevent this).
  • Do not try to remove any foreign body except by flushing. Other methods can scratch the surface of the eye, especially the cornea.
  • Tilt your child's head over a basin or sink with the affected eye down and gently pull down the lower lid. Encourage your child to open the eyes as wide as possible. For an infant or small child, it's helpful to have a second person hold the child's eyes open while you flush.
  • Gently pour a steady stream of lukewarm water (do not heat the water) from a pitcher or faucet over the eye.
  • Flush for up to 15 minutes, checking the eye every 5 minutes to see if the foreign body has been flushed out.
  • Because a particle can scratch the cornea and cause an infection, the eye should be examined by a doctor if irritation continues after flushing.
  • A foreign body that remains after flushing probably will require removal by a trained medical professional.

Embedded Foreign Body

If an object, such as a piece of glass or metal, is sticking out of the eye, take the following steps:

  • Call for emergency medical help or bring the child to the emergency room.
  • Cover the affected eye with a small cup taped in place. The point is to keep all pressure off the eye.
  • Keep your child (and yourself) as calm and comfortable as possible until help arrives.

Chemical Exposure

  • Many chemicals, even those found around the house, can damage an eye. If your child gets a chemical in the eye and you know what it is, look on the product's container for an emergency number to call for instructions.
  • Flush the eye (see Routine Irritations) immediately with lukewarm water for 15 to 30 minutes. If both eyes are affected, flush them in the shower.
  • Call for emergency medical help.

Call your local poison control center for specific instructions. Be prepared to give the exact name of the chemical, if you have it. However, do not delay flushing the eye first.

Black Eyes and Blunt Injuries

A black eye is often a minor injury. But this bruising also can be the result of a significant eye injury or head trauma. A visit to the doctor or an eye specialist might be needed to rule out serious injury, particularly if you're not sure what caused the black eye.

For a black eye:

  • Apply cold compresses intermittently: 5 to 10 minutes on, 10 to 15 minutes off. If you use ice, make sure it's covered with a towel or sock to protect the delicate skin on the eyelid.
  • Use cold compresses for 24 to 48 hours, then switch to applying warm compresses intermittently. This will help the body reabsorb the leakage of blood and may help reduce discoloration.
  • If the child is in pain, give acetaminophen — not aspirin or ibuprofen, which can increase bleeding.
  • Prop the child's head with an extra pillow at night, and encourage him or her to sleep on the uninjured side of the face (pressure can increase swelling).
  • Call your doctor, who may recommend an in-depth evaluation to rule out damage to the eye. Call immediately if you see any of these problems:
    • increased redness
    • drainage from the eye
    • lasting eye pain
    • any changes in vision
    • any visible abnormality of the eyeball
    • visible bleeding on the white part (sclera) of the eye, especially near the cornea

If the injury happened during one of your child's routine activities, such as a sport, follow up by investing in an ounce of prevention — protective goggles or unbreakable glasses are vitally important.

Reviewed by: Jonathan H. Salvin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2014