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.
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.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.