What Chemicals Burn the Eye?

by Jun 5, 2022

Many chemicals, including several commonly found around the house, can cause severe injury if they get into the eyes.


Acids vs Bases

Both acids, or chemicals with a pH lower than 7, and bases, chemicals with a pH higher than 7, can injure the eyes.

Most naturally occurring substances are slightly acidic and as such, our body is better equipped to handle acidic burns than basic or alkaline burns.

While acidic burns are less likely to lead to severe trauma, the tear film on the eyes is actually very slightly basic – at about 7.4 – and a chemical that is only slightly acidic will burn more than a chemical that is slightly basic.


Types of Injury and Chemical Burns

Whether the injury is caused by an acid or a base, the most common injury type is a chemical burn.

This burn can occur on the cornea, conjunctiva, eyelids, or eyelashes.

If there is additional trauma along with the injury, an abrasion or laceration may occur alongside the chemical burn.


Signs of a Chemical Burn

The signs of a chemical burn include whitening or blanching of the eye, watery tear production, redness of the eyelids, and many other signs.

When evaluated by an eye doctor, additional signs of chemical damage to the eyes can be revealed including inflammation of the cornea, loss of sensation to the cornea, and loss of eyelashes.

All of these signs are helpful to grade the severity of the potential chemical burn.


Different Grades of Chemical Burns

Based on the signs and symptoms present, the chemical burn can be graded into one of four categories ranging from mild, where there are signs but few symptoms, to very severe, when there are obvious signs, symptoms, and lasting damage.

Most chemical burns are grade 1 or 2 and while there may be discomfort or pain initially, the overall prognosis is excellent.

More severe chemical burns include those graded as 3 and 4. These burns are likely to leave permanent vision loss and trauma to the eyes.

A strong acid or strong base is more likely to cause a grade 3 or grade 4 chemical burn. Additionally, the longer the chemical is exposed to the eye, the more likely it is to develop a more sever burn.


Acidic Chemical Burns

Many household items can cause a chemical burn if exposed to the eye.

Weak acids such as vinegar and orange juice may cause a mild chemical burn but if left exposed long enough or with enough volume may also cause a severe burn.

Strong acids such as battery acid and glass cleaner can result in a severe chemical burn if exposed to the eyes, even for a short period of time.


Basic Chemical Burns

Like acids, basic chemicals can cause a variety of damage based of the strength and amount of the basic chemical.

Some weaker bases include baking soda and soap, these chemicals will not typically result in a severe chemical burn.

Stronger bases are common in households – especially in cleaning products. These strong bases include ammonia, bleach, anti-freeze, and oven cleaner.

All strong bases pose a serious threat to cause a severe chemical burn.


What to Do if You Get a Chemical Burn

If any chemical or substance gets into or exposed to your eyes, it is important to try to irrigate the eyes to remove the chemical before any other treatment is initiated.

Then go to the nearest urgent care eye clinic, whether it is contacting your regular eye doctor or presenting to the emergency department.

Prompt treatment is necessary for chemical burns and waiting for care is not advised.


Our eye doctors at Neal Eye Group in Conshohocken, PA excel in the prescription of contact lenses, glasses and various eye diseases.  Call our optometrists at (610) 828-9701 or schedule an appointment online if you would like to learn more about chemical eye burns.  Our optometrists provide the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in Conshohocken, Norristown, Plymouth Meeting, Lafayette Hill, and Philadelphia.

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