Eye emergencies


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.

Corneal injury

Watch this video about:
Corneal injury


Chemical injuries

Eyelid and eye cuts

Foreign object in the eye and corneal injuries


Depending on the type of injury, any of the following symptoms may be present:

First Aid

Take prompt action and follow the steps below if you or someone else has an eye-related injury.


The eye will often clear itself of tiny objects, like eyelashes and sand, through blinking and tearing. If not, take these steps:

  1. Tell the person not to rub the eye. Wash your hands before examining it.
  2. Examine the eye in a well-lighted area. To find the object, have the person look up and down, then from side to side.
  3. If you can't find the object, grasp the lower eyelid and gently pull down on it to look under the lower eyelid. To look under the upper lid, you can place a cotton-tipped swab on the outside of the upper lid and gently flip the lid over the cotton swab.
  4. If the object is on an eyelid, try to gently flush it out with water. If that does not work, try touching a second cotton-tipped swab to the object to remove it.
  5. If the object is on the eye, try gently rinsing the eye with water. It may help to use an eye dropper positioned above the outer corner of the eye. DO NOT touch the eye itself with the cotton swab.

A scratchy feeling or other minor discomfort may continue after removing eyelashes and other tiny objects. This will go away within a day or two. If the person continues to have discomfort or blurred vision, get medical help.


  1. Leave the object in place. DO NOT try to remove the object. DO NOT touch it or apply any pressure to it.
  2. Calm and reassure the person.
  3. Wash your hands.
  4. Bandage both eyes. If the object is large, place a paper cup or cone over the injured eye and tape it in place. Cover the uninjured eye with gauze or a clean cloth. If the object is small, cover both eyes with a clean cloth or sterile dressing. Even if only one eye is affected, covering both eyes will help prevent eye movement.
  5. Get medical help immediately.


  1. Flush with cool tap water immediately. Turn the person's head so the injured eye is down and to the side. Holding the eyelid open, allow running water from the faucet to flush the eye for 15 minutes.
  2. If both eyes are affected, or if the chemicals are also on other parts of the body, have the person take a shower.
  3. If the person is wearing contact lenses and the lenses did not flush out from the running water, have the person try to remove the contacts AFTER the flushing procedure.
  4. Continue to flush the eye with clean water or saline while seeking urgent medical attention.
  5. After following the above instructions, seek medical help immediately.


  1. If the eyeball has been injured, get medical help immediately.
  2. Gently apply cold compresses to reduce swelling and help stop any bleeding. DO NOT apply pressure to control bleeding.
  3. If blood is pooling in the eye, cover both of the person's eyes with a clean cloth or sterile dressing, and get medical help.


  1. Carefully wash the eye. Apply a thick layer of bacitracin, mupirocin, or other antibacterial ointment on the eyelid. Place a patch over the eye. Seek medical help immediately.
  2. If the cut is bleeding, apply gentle pressure with a clean, dry cloth until the bleeding stops.
  3. Rinse with water, cover with a clean dressing, and place a cold compress on the dressing to reduce pain and swelling.


When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seek emergency medical care if:



Butler FK Jr. The eye in the wilderness. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2007:chap 25.

Mitchell JD. Ocular emergencies. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, et al, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. Columbus, OH:McGraw-Hill;2006:chap 238.

Review Date: 2/7/2011
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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