The exposure of your eyes to chemicals may cause burns. Chemical burns usually affect the front of the eye, causing pain, tearing, irritation, redness, swelling of the eyelids, inability to keep your eyes open, blurred vision and a feeling of something in the eye. More severe burns penetrate and damage the deeper layers of the eye, causing glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye) and cataract (clouding of the lens).
Chemical burns are usually caused while working in industries and at home, while using certain cleansing products. The severity of the condition depends on the type of chemical and the duration of contact with your eye.
Chemical burns can be of 3 types:
- Alkali burns: Alkalis are substances with high pH (7 to 14) and may cause severe damage to the eyes as they penetrate into internal layers, such as the lens.
- Acid burns: Acids are substances with low pH (0 to 7), and can damage the surface and front region of the eye.
- Irritants: Irritants are substances with neutral pH that cause more discomfort (like pain) than tissue damage.
When you present to the clinic with a chemical burn, your eye doctor determines which chemical has caused the burn. A thorough examination of the eye is performed to check your vision. Structures around the eyes and eyelids are thoroughly examined for damage and the presence of foreign material. The extent of damage may be determined by staining your eyes with a particular dye.
Although some burns cause only minor discomfort, it should not be overlooked as permanent damage is possible. Initial treatment for chemical burns includes washing your eyes repeatedly with plenty of tap water. When you visit your doctor, the pH of your eye is checked and your eyes are washed until the pH is returned back to normal. Sometimes an anaesthetic is used to reduce the pain in your eyes while washing. Your doctor may prescribe artificial tears to lubricate your eyes and other medications to reduce irritation, treat associated complications and provide pain relief. In case of deep burns, you may require surgery.