Eye injuries may be caused by a foreign object or chemical entering the eye, or a blow to the eye. Here's what to do to prevent further damage to this delicate organ.


Eye injuries are caused by foreign objects, chemicals or a blow to the eye. Minor objects in the eye can usually be removed by washing the eye out with water. Don't attempt to remove a large object stuck in the eye; cover it with a rigid eye shield. Immediately flush the eye out in the case of a chemical burn. Treat blows to the eye with a cold compress. For a cut to the eye or eyelid, cover with an eyeshield.

What causes eye injuries?

Eye injuries may be caused by a foreign object or chemical entering the eye, or a blow to the eye.

What are the symptoms and signs of eye injury?

Symptoms include pain, redness (bloodshot eye), bleeding, tearing, sensitivity to light, swelling and discoloration (black eye) around the eye.

Minor objects in the eye

Occasionally, a speck of dirt, eyelash or other small object gets into the eye and causes irritation. Tears usually wash out the object. It may also cause a minor scratch of the surface of the eye, which usually heals within 24 hours. A scratch feels similar to a foreign body in the eye.

First aid for minor objects in the eye

  • Don't rub the eye: this may cause further scratching.
  • Gently pull the upper eyelid outward and down over the lower, and hold it there to encourage tears to flush out the foreign body.
  • If this doesn't work, flush the eye with water or artificial teardrops.
  • If this still doesn't work and you can see the object floating freely on the white of the eye, or if the object is in the corner of the eye or on the inside of the lower lid, carefully try to remove it. Wet the tip of a cotton bud or a corner of cotton swab or tissue with water, and gently touch the object with the tip. It should cling to the moistened tip. Never use hard items. Don't try to remove an object which is in front of the iris or embedded.
  • If you manage to remove the object, gently flush the eye again.
  • If you are unsuccessful, cover the eye with a clean pad and seek medical attention.

See a doctor if:

  • The object is embedded in the white of the eye or is in the cornea (in front of the pupil or iris).
  • The scratching sensation continues for more than a few hours.
  • You have severe or persistent pain.
  • Your vision is affected or you become sensitive to light.
  • First aid for larger objects stuck in the eye

If an object such as a piece of glass, twig or stone chip has become embedded in the eye:

  • Don't attempt to remove the object. Don't touch or rub the eye and keep the eyes as still as possible.
  • Place the bottom half of a paper cup over the injured eye, so that nothing touches it or the object.
  • Secure the cup in place with a bandage or scarf that covers both eyes. You can cut a hole in the bandage, and place the hole over the injured eye. (Both eyes are covered to help prevent movement of the injured eye).
  • Seek immediate medical help.

First aid for chemical burns to the eye

  • Flush chemicals out of the eye as quickly as possible.
  • Hold the eyelid open and run a stream of water gently over the eyeball from its inner corner, allowing water to run out of the eye from the outer corner.
  • Don't let contaminated water run into the unaffected eye.
  • Continue flushing for at least 20 minutes.
  • Have the person move their eye in all directions to rinse it thoroughly.
  • Milk can also be used to wash out the eye if you don't have water.
  • If the person is wearing contact lenses, don't try to remove the lens. Flush the eye first.
  • Don't rub or close the eye
  • Don't use an eyecup or bandage the eye.
  • Seek immediate medical help after flushing.

First aid for a blow to the eye

  • Gently apply a cold compress of crushed ice or ice cubes in a plastic bag or cloth.
  • Get immediate medical help if there is pain, reduced vision or discoloration: these symptoms could indicate internal damage.
  • If the person is wearing contact lenses, don't attempt to remove them; get a medical professional to do so.

First aid for cuts of the eye or eyelid

  • Don't wash out the eye.
  • Don't try to remove any object stuck in the eye.
  • Cover the eye with a rigid eye shield, or the bottom half of a paper cup. Cover both eyes with clean gauze or cloth; secure with bandage.
  • Seek immediate medical help.

Prevention of eye injuries

  • Wear eye protection for contact sports and any activities that put you at risk for exposure to dust, flying particles or objects and chemicals e.g. lawn mowing, when using DIY chemicals.
  • Avoid toys with sharp projections, corners and edges.
  • Also avoid flying toys and those that fire projectiles.

First aid in the workplace

  • Every workplace should have a central point (operations centre in a big factory, switchboard in a small office) through which emergency action is co-ordinated.
  • "Common things occur commonly" and so the first aider or emergency care provider would expect emergencies related to common conditions prevalent in the local community and therefore the workplace.

The common emergencies in South Africa would be related to:

  • Heart Disease (heart attack)
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Trauma (injury)
  • Communication
  • Every workplace should have a central point (operations centre in a big factory, switchboard in a small office) through which emergency action is co-ordinated.
  • In an emergency workers should have an internal emergency number to call through which they reach an operator who would respond first aiders, summon the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and send someone out to meet the ambulance.
  • The operator would have clearly displayed at their station the emergency number for EMS. (e.g. 10177 is currently the National Medical Emergency Number, very soon 112 dialled on Telkom and cellular phones will replace all the emergency numbers)

Internal Response

Every office, factory, mall, shop etc. should have an Emergency Medical Response Team with training in first aid (including the use of Automatic External Defibrillation) and basic first aid equipment with which to respond.

Communication from the "shop floor" with the control point is essential (radio or cell phone).

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