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First Aid for Eyes

Many different things can cause problems for the eyes, which are a particularly sensitive part of the body. In this post we’ll break down the different types of issue, and explain the best treatment for each.

What can damage the eyes?

Many different things can damage the eyes. These are broadly described below:

  • Foreign Bodies. Things like sand or grit, sawdust or flying insects are all guilty of getting into eyes and causing problems.
  • Chemicals. Most commonly, suncream or moisturiser gets into the eyes, particularly when we sweat. However more harmful chemicals can cause serious damage to eyes in industrial settings.
  • Impaled Objects. Larger objects that are impaled in the eye can be quite traumatic for the casualty and any bystanders, as well as potentially causing significant damage to the eye itself.
  • Bright Light. Usually the sun, or the sun’s rays reflecting off a surface such as snow or water can cause serious discomfort. Similarly, weld flash can cause a similar problem in an instant.

How Should We Treat Eye Injuries?

Treatment for eye injuries is thankfully quite straight forward. The first two categories, Foreign Bodies and Chemicals should be irrigated with copies amounts of clean water. Any water that is clean enough to drink will suffice, so if no fresh water is available a water bottle can be used to improvise.

Treating Eyes Affected by Foreign Bodies or Chemicals

To irrigate the damaged eye, take the following steps:

  • Sit the casualty down, and support them to tip their head backwards so they are looking at the sky.
  • Turn their head toward the side of the affected eye to allow the water to run away from the unaffected eye.
  • Pour water from their nose, allowing it to flush over the eye and drain away to the side of their face. Providing a towel may make this a more pleasant experience. You may need to assist by holding eyelids open to ensure that water is able to flush the foreign bodies or chemicals out.
  • Encourage the casualty not to rub their eyes. A foreign body may well have scratched the surface of the eyeball which can feel quite uncomfortable for a while.
  • If there is any doubt, or ongoing concern, apply a dressing (see below) and seek medical help.

Treatment for Impaled Objects in Eyes

Again in this case we are going to irrigate the damaged eye as above. If the impaled object does not come out of its own accord, do not attempt to pull it out.

Instead, provide a dressing to both cover the eye, and support the impaled object if appropriate. Importantly however, we must apply a dressing to both eyes rather than just the damaged eye. This is because both eyes move together in unison and there is a risk that even if we bandage one eye, it will continue to move as the unaffected eye looks around.

Seek medical help, this might be at the hospital, or minor injuries clinic. It can also be worth contacting an optician if one is close by, as they may be able to provide specialist help more quickly than a busy hospital, especially for more minor injuries.

Treatment for Eyes Damaged by Bright Light

Damage caused by bright UV light from the sun, or reflected off another surface can build up slowly, such that it is not immediately noticed by the casualty. Often it is not until later in the day, when the brightness has receded that the effects are felt. Weld flash, or flash burn however tends to happen much quicker due to the intensity of the UV light.

The easiest way to describe the effects of UV light are that the surface of the eye is sunburned, and the symptoms are much the same. Casualties describe a feeling of tightness and scratchy soreness when blinking – “like having sandpaper behind the eyelids”. Another common symptom is a loss of contrast such as a difficulty reading the newspaper, or blurry vision.

To treat a casualty suffering from damage caused by bright light:

  • Remove from the light source. Take them to a darkened room if possible.
  • Provide some cold, wet compresses to sooth the eyes. Light irrigation with saline eye drops can also provide some pain relief.
  • Consider seeking medical help, especially if the symptoms appear to be worsening. Again an optician can be a good option. They will be able to carry out an inspection to check how extensive the damage is, and recommend further treatment if required.
  • The eyes should heal in 2-3 days without any lasting damage if treated correctly.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Remember that most injuries to eyes can be prevented simply by wearing appropriate eyewear. If you are squinting in the brightness, there is a reason for this and it is your body’s way of indicating that you need to put sunglasses on. Ensure that your sunglasses glasses carry the “CE” Mark and British Standard BS EN 1836:2005, which indicates that the sunglasses offer a safe level of UV protection.

Similarly, if participating in activities where there is a likelyhood of airborne particles of dust, grit or flying insects, appropriate eyewear can go a long way to reducing problems before they occur.