Eye injuries

Minor irritation or injury to the front of the eye usually doesn't need treatment and should clear up within 24 hours. See your optician or GP if you are concerned about your injury or it's not better within 24 hours. More serious injury requires immediate medical assessment.

Common types of eye injury

Common types of eye injury include:

  • blows to the eye – such as being hit by a fist, elbow or ball
  • scratches and abrasions – such as from fingernails or tree branches
  • foreign bodies – such as small pieces of grit, wood or metal getting in the eye
  • penetrating or cutting injuries – such as cuts from glass or projectiles flung from tools, especially when hammering or using power tools
  • chemical burns – such as exposure to household cleaning products
  • radiation exposure – such as exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or sun lamps

Wearing contact lenses incorrectly can also injure your eyes. This is particularly if they're dirty, don't fit properly or have been worn for too long.

When to seek medical advice

Minor irritation or injury to the front of the eye usually doesn't require medical treatment. It should clear up within 24 hours.

If you experience discomfort, painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help.

Don't touch or rub your eye, apply pressure to it or wear contact lenses until it's fully healed. This is to prevent further damage.

See your optician or GP if:

  • you have any concerns about your injury
  • it's not better within 24 hours

Flushing your eye

If you have loose particles in your eye or your eye has been exposed to chemicals, flush it out with an eyewash or plenty of clean water.

You should do this for at least 10 to 15 minutes. If you wear contact lenses, remember to remove them before flushing the eye.

You can flush your eyes in the following ways:

  • sit down and slant your head so the injured eye is lower than the unaffected eye, ideally over a bath or sink, then use a glass or cupped hand to repeatedly pour water across the eye from the bridge of the nose
  • if both eyes are affected, tilt your head back, keeping it level, and use a glass or cupped hand to repeatedly pour water across both eyes from the bridge of the nose
  • if you have access to a shower, aim a gentle stream of warm water at your forehead or just above the affected eye while holding the affected eye open
  • if you're working outside, you can use a garden hose to rinse your eye using a very low flow setting to avoid injury, and ensuring the water source is clean

All eye injuries caused by chemical exposure should be seen by an eye doctor or nurse as soon as possible after flushing.

You should also seek immediate medical advice if there are still any foreign bodies in the eye after flushing it.

Don't try to remove any objects embedded or stuck in the eye yourself, as this can damage the eye further. These should only be removed by an eye expert.

When to seek immediate medical advice

You should go immediately to your nearest emergency department if you have:

  • persistent or severe eye pain
  • foreign bodies that can't be washed out
  • decreased or double vision
  • flashing lights, spots, halos or shadows in your field of vision
  • blood visible in your eye
  • an irregularly shaped pupil (the black dot at the centre of the eye)
  • pain when exposed to bright light
  • deep cuts around your eye
  • your eye is sticking out of your eye socket

You should also go to the emergency department if your injury was caused by an object flying at speed – for example, a projectile flung from an angle grinder; a very sharp object, such as glass or a knife; or chemical exposure. Flush your eye for at least 10 to 15 minutes before going.

Seeing an eye specialist

Your GP may refer you to an ophthalmologist for further specialist care if your eye hasn't improved after 48 hours or it's got worse.

You'll be asked how the injury happened, your vision and eye movements will be checked. The eye will then be examined to find out how severe the injury is.

Preventing eye injuries

Many eye injuries are preventable if you take suitable safety precautions during leisure activities or work. These precautions can include, for example, wearing eye protection when hammering metal and using power tools. 

You should also follow instructions on the safe and hygienic use of contact lenses.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published January 2018

This page is due for review August 2019

Health conditions A to Z

Search by health condition or symptoms

Or find conditions beginning with …

Share this page

What do you want to do?
What is your question about?
Do you want a reply?
Your email address
To reply to you, we need your email address
Your feedback

We will not reply to your feedback.  Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

This feedback form is for issues with the nidirect website only.

You can use it to report a problem or suggest an improvement to a webpage.

If you have a question about a government service or policy, you should contact the relevant government organisation directly as we don’t have access to information about you held by government departments.

You must be aged 13 years or older - if you’re younger, ask someone with parental responsibility to send the feedback for you.

The nidirect privacy notice applies to any information you send on this feedback form.

Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.

What to do next

Comments or queries about angling can be emailed to anglingcorrespondence@daera-ni.gov.uk 

What to do next

If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912
Email 
dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

Call 0800 587 2750 
Email 
customerservice.unit@communities-ni.gov.uk

Disability Living Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912 
Email dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Employment and Support Allowance

Call 0800 587 1377

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

If your query is about another benefit, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

Comments or queries about the Blue Badge scheme can be emailed to bluebadges@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk or you can also call 0300 200 7818.

What to do next

For queries or advice about careers, contact the Careers Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Child Maintenance, contact the Child Maintenance Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about claiming compensation due to a road problem, contact DFI Roads claim unit.

What to do next

For queries or advice about criminal record checks, email ani@accessni.gov.uk

What to do next

Application and payment queries can be emailed to ema_ni@slc.co.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about employment rights, contact the Labour Relations Agency.

What to do next

For queries or advice about birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates and research, contact the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) by email gro_nisra@finance-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about passports, contact HM Passport Office.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs), including parking tickets and bus lane PCNs, email dcu@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about pensions, contact the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

What to do next

If you wish to report a problem with a road or street you can do so online in this section.

If you wish to check on a problem or fault you have already reported, contact DfI Roads.

What to do next

For queries or advice about historical, social or cultural records relating to Northern Ireland, use the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) enquiry service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about rates, email LPSCustomerTeam@lpsni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about  60+ and Senior Citizen SmartPasses (which can be used to get concessionary travel on public transport), contact Smartpass - Translink.