by James Hubbard, MD, MPHEyeball

Last post, I wrote about the most common eye injuries I see: having something in the eye, a scratched cornea, or both. With these injuries, sometimes you may just start feeling discomfort, never even knowing what happened. But in the injuries I talk about in this post, you’ll know. With them, diagnosis is not the problem. But knowing how to treat them could mean the difference between having permanent damage and healing completely.

Puncture Wounds, Blast Injuries, Blunt Trauma, and Cuts

Any eye injury that involves anything other than the outer corneal layer (the clear coating) is a true emergency. Many times these injuries cause vision loss that can be permanent if not treated very soon at a medical facility.

Until you can get to a facility, protect the eye from further injury or pressure.

Here’s a trick that can help: Cut a small paper cup short and tape it over the eye. (Make sure neither it nor the tape touches the eye.)

If something is stuck in your eye, let a medical expert take it out because you’re likely to damage the eye further by trying. If there’s no way of getting to an expert for days and you have to take the object out yourself, you’re likely to permanently damage your vision. With a penetrating puncture wound to the eye, some of the gel contents will come out, and the pressure in your eye will become all askew. This will cause the iris and other contents to displace. There’s also a risk for infection.


With too much cold exposure, your feet and hands aren’t the only parts susceptible to frostbite. And just like with them—or any other part of your body—if your eye gets frostbitten, getting out of the cold ASAP is your treatment.

Frostbite to the eyeball occurs most often when people are riding snowmobiles, but any cold wind exposure without goggles is a risk. The thing you’ll probably notice is your vision is getting blurred. Immediately start warming the area and try to get to a medical facility.

If you can’t get to a facility, after your eye warms up, you treat the residual pain like you would a corneal abrasion. If you’re lucky and the damage is superficial, the eye will heal. But, just like frostbite anywhere else, the frostbite can be severe, causing deep damage, like a burn. Many such eyeball injuries require strong steroid and antibiotic drops and still may result in permanent damage.

Chemicals in Your Eye

The most common troublemakers are acids—such as from an exploding battery—and alkalis—the ingredients in many household cleaners. Surprisingly the alkalis tend to cause more damage (and less pain).

For these common chemical exposures, take your contacts out if you have any in, irrigate your eye (rinse it) for a minimum of 30 minutes, and get to doctor if at all possible. Again, steroid and antibiotic drops, which the doctor can give you, can decrease the inflammation and resultant damage. If you can’t get to a doctor, all you can do is irrigate and then treat it like a corneal abrasion.  Most will heal just fine. Sometimes, however, the damage is too deep, resulting in permanent eye damage.

Preventing These Eye Injuries

Prevention is simple. When you’re working with chemicals; you’re out in the cold wind; or you’re sawing, grinding, hammering, etc., always wear goggles.


Have you or anyone you know had any of the above injuries? What happened? What did you do? What was the outcome?


Photo: Flickr/NealFowler, shared under CC BY-NC 2.0.