Your Eye Safety and The Most Used Household Chemicals

Every year, thousands of eye injuries get received by emergency departments after exposure to household chemicals. That is why eye safety around chemicals is the topic of this post and how to respond to a chemical in eye scenario.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), hospitals receive 125,000 eye injuries each year related to household cleaning products in the United States alone.

Numbers like this one emphasize the importance of preventing eye injuries to lower the incidence of chemical-induced blindness.

In this article, we will cover the common household chemicals that compromise eye safety, as well as some prevalent eye injuries you should be aware of.

The most common household chemicals that compromise eye safety

Ammonia

Several household cleaners contain harmful chemicals, such as bleach and ammonia. The properties of these chemicals make them particularly harmful to the eyes. In fact, even some air fresheners could be a host for harmful chemicals.

Before buying any cleaning product, you need to carefully read the label to look for any suspicious chemicals. Naturally, you will find hundreds of products with dangerous substances. However, by reading the label, you will be aware of those dangers and take precautionary measures.

Additionally, avoid mixing cleaners to generate a more potent product. For instance, adding ammonia to bleach can be very dangerous (even deadly).

Finally, make sure to keep the area that you are cleaning well-ventilated to lower the risk of inhaling chemicals.

Vinegar

Vinegar takes part of numerous household cleaning products and homemade solutions. You should never mix this substance with chlorine bleach since it creates a very dangerous combination known as chlorine gas.

When vinegar gets in contact with the eyes, expect irritation and redness to occur right away. Additionally, corneal injury is also common.

Once you realize that your eyes got exposed to vinegar, you need to start rinsing the with an abudance of water immediately. The water should be warm, but not hot.

If your child gets exposed, pour water onto the bridges of the nose to let it run into their eyes. 

For added safety, contact your eye doctor immediately or head to the nearest emergency room.

Acetic acid

Acetic acid is a very common chemical used in dozens of products and industries. For instance, you can find this chemical in:

  • Vinyl acetate monomer (production of paint and adhesives)
  • Vinegar 
  • Inks, paints, and dyes
  • Solvents

Moreover, manufacturers use acetic acid to produce preservatives, fungicides, pesticides, coatings, and pigments.

Unfortunately, this chemical is highly corrosive to the eyes and skin, which mandates careful handling. In fact, this chemical is so damaging that ingesting it could wreak havoc on your internal organs.

Government officials recommend taking a few safety steps before handling acetic acid, including:

  • Avoiding adding water to this chemical
  • Keeping it away from sources of heat, flame, or sparks
  • Wearing suitable respiratory equipment, especially in poor ventilated areas
  • Wearing gloves, splash goggles, and vapor respirators 

If you get exposed to acetic acid, you need to determine the affected area (e.g., skin, eyes) and seek the help of a medical professional immediately. This step will help your doctor prevent irreversible damage to the eyes.

You should also remove your contact lenses (if present) and flush your eyes wih plent of water for at least 15 minutes. Do not delay asking for help.

Common household eye injuries

According to experts, the vast majority of household-related eye injuries fall into three categories:

  • Chemical burns
  • Penetrating eye injuries 
  • Small particles and irritants

Besides these injuries, getting exposed to chemicals increases the risk of ocular infections, which further exacerbates the damage.

Chemical burns

During spraying or splashing chemicals, getting some into your eye is not a rare thing.

Common scenarios where eye injuries could happen include:

  • When you are spraying pesticide or liquid fertilizer on your garden
  • During cleaning (using chemical products)
  • Working on your car
  • Fixing something inside your garage

In general, when you get some chemicals into your eyes, you will feel a burn or sting that lasts for a few hours without leaving irreversible damage. However, certain chemicals can be catastrophic for the eyes.

Alkaline chemicals, in particular, can lead to severe damage due to their structural properties. These products interact and kill the cells of the eye, which leads to severe injuries and increases the risk of several complications (e.g., glaucoma, cataracts).

Some household products with alkaline chemicals include chlorine bleach, plaster or cement (lime), drain cleaners, cleaning products, fertilizers, and oven cleaners.

Conversely, acidic chemicals cause burns, which is generally less severe than their alkaline counterparts. This is because eye cells produce proteins that protect them after exposure to acidic chemicals. Also, you can easily flush your eyes.

Some household products with acidic chemicals include battery acid, vinegar, glass polish (hydrofluoric acid), nail polish remover (acetic acid), and paint thinner.

Penetrating Eye Injuries

In this category of eye injuries, a foreign body (i.e., intraocular foreign body – IOFB) lacerates or penetrates the eye.

Unfortunately, this type of injury can lead to long-lasting damage, including conjunctival and corneal lacerations, bleeding inside the eye, retinal scarring and tears, retinal detachment, cataracts, and glaucoma.

While the most common products that cause penetrating eye injuries are not chemical in nature, some substances (e.g., alkaline products) can lead to severe laceration of the eye, which eventually facilitates the penetration of other objects.

Small Particles and Irritants in the eye

While foreign objects can cause severe damage to the eye, having small particles or irritants can be more debilitating.

Depending on the type and amount of irritants that penetrate into your eye, symptoms will vary greatly.

Here are the common signs and symptoms of having small particles or irritants inside your eye:

  • Bloodshot or red eyes
  • Burning sensation
  • Light sensitivity
  • Excessive blinking 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Excessive tearing

Takeaway Message About Getting a Chemical in the Eye

Learning about the common household chemicals that put your eyes at risk is crucial to prevent injuries. Taking measures when interacting with these chemicals can save thousands of eyes every year.

We hope that this article will serve as a wake-up call to make you more careful around these chemicals.

If you have any questions or concerns about household chemicals and their effect on the eyes, do not hesitate to share your thoughts down below.

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Dr. Thirion

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