One View on Eye Injuries

Parents have been wide-eyed with lots of questions about what to do if their child experiences an eye injury.  Well, let me eyeball those questions and provide some information on this topic.

Eye injuries are the most common preventable cause of blindness, so when in doubt it is important to err on the side of caution and call your child’s doctor for further advice. That being said, here are some general rules to follow while waiting for your doctor to call back.

First, wash your hands before you touch any part of your child’s eyelids to examine the injury. Try not to touch the eye itself, and don’t let your child touch it either even if you have to swaddle their arms to prevent them from doing so.  Don’t try to remove anything from the eye yourself even if you see something sticking out of it such as a piece of glass or metal.  Just tape a small cup over the affected eye and keep pressure off of it while you head to an emergency facility.    

If the eye has been splashed with a household cleaning product that may contain dangerous chemicals, start flushing with water and look at the product container for ingredients. Call the Northeast Regional Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 and they will guide you on whether to seek emergency care.

To flush the eye, pull the lower lid down gently while you pour a steady stream of lukewarm (not hot) water from a pitcher or faucet over the eye for 15 minutes. You should stop every 5 minutes or so to see if the object has been removed.  It may be necessary to have someone hold your child gently while you do this. If flushing does not work, or if you are uncomfortable even trying it, then seek medical assistance from your doctor or an emergency facility. 

If the eye is hit accidentally during a collision or sport, discuss the injury with your child’s doctor. If there is increased redness and swelling, drainage from the eye, persistent pain or increased sensitivity to light, any changes in vision, any visible abnormality of the eyeball, or visible bleeding on the white part of the eye, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

If the eye itself is ok, put some ice in a towel and apply it to the injured area for 5-10 minutes on and then 10-15 minutes off while your child is awake for the rest of the day to reduce the risk or severity of a shiner or black eye occurring. For pain, you can use acetaminophen.  The best way to deal with an eye injury is not have one occur. When playing a sport, protective goggles or unbreakable glasses are key. 

Hopefully, tips like this will be viewed as a sight for sore eyes when it comes to knowing more about what to do if your child experiences an eye injury.  

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids