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Eye emergencies

  • Definition

    Eye emergencies include cuts, scratches, objects in the eye, burns, chemical exposure, and blunt injuries to the eye or eyelid. Since the eye is easily damaged, any of these conditions can lead to vision loss if left untreated.


    It is important to get medical attention for all major eye or eyelid injuries and problems. Eye problems (such as a painful red eye) that are not due to injury still need urgent medical attention.

    • A black eye is usually caused by direct trauma to the eye or face. The bruise is caused by bleeding under the skin. The tissue around the eye turns black and blue, gradually becoming purple, green, and yellow over several days. The abnormal color disappears within 2 weeks. Usually, swelling of the eyelid and tissue around the eye also occurs.
    • Certain types of skull fractures can cause bruising around the eyes, even without direct injury to the eye.
    • Occasionally, serious damage to the eye itself occurs from the pressure of a swollen eyelid or face. A hyphema is blood in the front area of the eye. Trauma, often due to a direct hit to the eye from a ball, is a common cause.

    Chemical injuries

    • A chemical injury to the eye can be caused by a work-related accident or by common household products, such as cleaning solutions, garden chemicals, solvents, or many other types of chemicals. Fumes and aerosols can also cause chemical burns.
    • With acid burns, the haze on the cornea often clears and there is a good chance of recovery.
    • However, alkaline substances -- such as lime, lye, commercial drain cleaners, and sodium hydroxide found in refrigeration equipment -- may cause permanent damage to the cornea.
    • Damage may occur, even with prompt treatment. It is important to flush out the eye with clean water or salt water (saline) while seeking urgent medical care.

    Eyelid and eye cuts

    • An injury to the eyelid may be a sign of severe injury to the eye itself.

    Foreign object in the eye and corneal injuries

    • The cornea is the clear (transparent) tissue covering the front of the eye.
    • Dust, sand, and other debris can easily enter the eye. Persistent pain and redness are signs that you need treatment.
    • A foreign body in the eye may threaten your vision if the object enters the eye itself or damages the cornea or lens. Foreign bodies thrown at high speed by machining, grinding, or hammering metal have the highest risk.