The first few seconds following an eye injury are critical to keeping damage to the eyes to the barest minimum and preventing vision loss. Since the eye is fragile and easily damaged, the appropriate first aid measures must be taken and promptly too. In this series, we will provide helpful tips that serve as a guide to keeping damage to the barest minimum and preventing vision loss before you are able to see an eye care professional. The popular saying “A stitch in time, saves nine” holds true for eye emergencies.
What is an eye emergency?
An emergency can be described as an unexpected, sudden, serious and dangerous situation which requires urgent and immediate action. An eye emergency is that unexpected, sudden, serious and dangerous injury to the eye(s) which requires immediate attention. These emergencies could occur at any time or place, usually at work, in the kitchen, at leisure and as we move about in our environment.
Eye injuries can be as a result of:
- Foreign body in the eye
- Chemical Injury/exposure
- Blunt trauma or Blow to the eye
As the name implies, any foreign material inside the eyes could cause injury leading to decreased vision, irritation, inflammation or redness and pain of varying degrees. Foreign bodies are of different types and sizes. From as simple as eye lashes, to dust or sand particles, to insects trapped in, to objects embedded or even lodged in the eyes. From stationary objects impacting the eye surface to objects moving at a high velocity, damage to the eyes varies in impact and severity.
Sand or dirt/dust particles seem to be the most common foreign body experienced by the vast majority. Sand storms, harsh weather conditions whether on a bicycle or a motorbike.
Flying insects could also miss their way and become trapped in the eye. Due to the moist nature of the eye (the eyes become even moister when irritated or a foreign body is present) these insects can’t fly out. Their secretions and body fluids may irritate the eyes or even be toxic. While they rub on the cornea and lids, they could cause minor abrasions.
Metal pieces (especially during welding or hammering metal on metal) and glass shards may be more damaging, sometimes leading to torn vessels and blood leaking out of same vessels.
A vegetative matter such as soil or grass when gardening or cutting grass on a lawn could also pose a certain threat to the eyes and vision.
A foreign body may also be a large object such as a stick or large piece of wood getting stuck in the globe.
First Aid for Foreign Body in the Eyes
For most small foreign bodies, the initial first aid regime is the same or similar.
- To avoid further damage or accident, the victim must stop all movement, preferably sit down in a safe place and call for help. The key is to stay still.
- A wet clean cloth can be used to wipe off any particles surrounding the eyes (eyelids, eyebrows, and lashes) while the eyes are closed to prevent more particles from entering.
- In cases of small objects such as sand, dust or small insects, the victim should blink severally and rapidly. Successive blinking would generate tears in the eye which will both moisten the eye and lubricate them. The tears would flush out tiny particles and relieve symptoms.
- If the particle or insect still seems to be in the eyes, the eyes should then be flushed with sterile saline or cool flowing tap water for 10-20 minutes. External help may be needed with the victim facing up and the eyes being flushed or done single handed over a kitchen sink.
- The eyelids may be everted using a cotton bud to ensure that all particles are removed.
If more particles are observed, flush some more. A mirror could be used where the victim has no external help.
- Proper eye examination should then be done by a certified Eye Doctor.
- For larger objects such as objects stuck in the eyes or penetrating the globe, this must be handled carefully and taken seriously. While transporting the victim to the hospital, place a paper cup over the object to keep it steady and avoid more damage, then place bandages in an ‘X’ fashion over the entire globe
While handling the eyes even in emergency situations, safety and hygiene are of utmost importance. In view of this, your hands and the hands of any external help must be well washed and properly cleaned. In addition, adequate lighting must be available while flushing or inspecting the eyes.
- Do not put any substance or drug not prescribed by medical personnel into the eyes before examination by a doctor. This includes herbal medicine.
- Do not rub the eyes.
- Do not apply pressure to the eyes or globe
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Cheers to your eye health!!!