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When chemicals splash into an eye or a foreign object gets stuck in one, it is crucial to act fast. In most cases, a person should flush the area as quickly as possible.
Dirt, grit, dust, and other stray particles should all be flushed from the eyes, as should chemicals and bodily fluids, such as blood.
While flushing the eye, a person should have someone call emergency services or prepare to take them to receive immediate medical attention.
In this article, learn how to flush the eyes without causing further damage and what symptoms may indicate a medical emergency.
The following are step-by-step instructions on how to flush the eye:
- Recognize the foreign object: The object in the eye may be so small that a person does not notice it. Symptoms can include redness, itchiness, pain, and other types of irritation. If a person is splashed with a bodily fluid or chemical, they should flush their eye as quickly as possible.
- Identify the necessary materials: An emergency eyewash solution may be nearby, especially if a person is in a lab or kitchen. These solutions can be purchased online. If one is not available, a person can use clean, debris-free water from a tap, hose, or shower. Some workplaces, schools, and hospitals have eyewash stations.
- Remove contact lenses. If possible, do this before flushing the eye. Otherwise, a contact lens could trap chemicals or debris, making symptoms worse.
- Find the correct position. Begin by tilting the head down, with the affected eye at the lowest point. This prevents materials from spreading to the opposite eye. The water or solution should flow from the inner eye to the outer corner.
- Flush the eye. Use the fluid for 10 to 15 minutes. Keep the eye open for as long as possible, allowing the fluid to travel across the eye. Look up, down, and to the sides, while flushing the eye, to ensure that no chemicals or debris are trapped under the eyelids. The fluid’s pressure should be steady but not so strong that it hurts the eye.
A person will likely get wet while flushing their eye. If someone else is present, it may be helpful to hand the person flushing a towel or garbage bag to keep the wetness away.
After a person has flushed their eye, they should seek immediate medical attention. If chemicals were the cause, they should bring a sample to the doctor for identification.
A person may need to flush their eye for longer, depending on the type of chemical involved. Flushing times for specific chemicals include:
- 15 to 20 minutes for moderate-to-severe irritants and chemicals that can cause acute toxicity when absorbed by the skin, such as acetic acid, bleach, and formaldehyde
- 30 minutes for most corrosive chemicals, such as sulfuric acid
- 60 minutes for strong alkaline materials, such as sodium, potassium, or calcium hydroxide
Oven and drain cleaners are also highly alkaline, and a person may need to flush their eye for hours to prevent the surface of the eye from becoming burned.
If any material has penetrated the eyeball, flushing the eye can cause further damage.
In this case, seek emergency medical attention and protect the eye by covering it with a gauze pad or Styrofoam cup.
Refrain from rubbing the eyes, even if they are itchy or painful, as this can push the object deeper into the eye.
Anyone who has sustained an eye injury should seek emergency medical attention, even if the area no longer hurts after flushing.
The following symptoms also require emergency medical attention when they follow an eye injury:
- double vision and other changes in vision
- eye swelling
- a headache
- severe pain in the eye
Contact emergency services if metal, glass, or another object is protruding from the eye.
Anyone who works with tools, chemicals, or around bodily fluids should always wear eye protection. If an injury occurs, a person should flush their eye as soon as possible for at least 15 minutes.
After flushing the eye, contact emergency services or find a ride to a hospital. This is especially important when the eye has been exposed to chemicals.