What is an eye injury?
Eye injuries include bruises, punctures and scratches. They can result from accidents, exposure to chemicals or foreign objects in the eye.
See an ophthalmologist right away if you have an eye injury. Some eye injuries heal with rest and at-home treatments. Others can cause serious eye damage and vision loss.
What are the most common eye injuries?
Eye injuries range from mild to severe. Some of the most common eye injuries include:
- Black eye: A blow to the eye or the tissue around it causes a black eye. The area around the eye is bruised, swollen and painful. The eyelid may also be cut. The swelling can interfere with vision.
- Bleeding in the eye: An eye surface hemorrhage (bleeding) can result from straining too hard (such as during a cough) or from trauma to the eye. A subconjunctival hemorrhage happens when blood appears in the clear skin part of the eye (the conjunctiva) that covers the white part (the sclera). Blood can also pool between the cornea and the iris (the clear transparent of the eye and the colored part). This bleeding is called a hyphema.
- Burns and irritation: Chemicals, fumes and other irritants can burn or damage the eye, leading to vision loss.
- Corneal abrasion: Foreign objects, fingernails, contact lenses and other items can scratch the cornea. The cornea is the clear transparent area on the front of the eye. Corneal abrasions cause pain, sensitivity to light, and eye watering.
- Injury from a foreign object: When something lodges in the eye, vision problems and eye pain can result. The most common foreign objects in the eye include dirt or debris, sawdust or shattered glass. Contact lenses can cause eye injuries when they stay in the eye too long.
- Orbital (eye socket) fractures: Trauma or blunt force to the bones surrounding the eye can cause a fracture. Orbital fractures usually happen when an object or fist hits the eye. In an orbital blowout fracture, bones inside the eye socket shatter. The muscles that support the eyes can stretch, tear or become trapped. Children are especially susceptible to this.
- Retinal detachment: A detached retina can cause permanent vision loss. It usually results from age-related changes or trauma to the eye. It happens when the retina (thin tissue on the back of the eye) pulls away from the wall of the eye.
Who is at risk of an eye injury?
Anyone can get an eye injury. Kids and teenagers are more likely to injure their eyes, especially while playing sports or doing other recreational activities. People who play contact sports like football and hockey have a higher risk. Baseball and softball players are more likely to have an eye injury from a flying ball.
Construction workers and people who work with chemicals, lasers and potential irritants have a higher risk of an eye injury on the job. Eye injuries can happen at home while doing yard work, cooking, cleaning or setting off fireworks.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of eye injuries?
Symptoms vary based on the type of injury. They may appear suddenly or develop over time.
Signs of an eye injury include:
- Pain and swelling: Your eye may hurt, especially when you try to open, close or move it. The eye may be sensitive to the touch. Swelling can affect the eyeball, eyelid or entire face.
- Bruising and redness: Any part of the eye may appear red or bruised.
- Vision changes: You may see floating black spots or flashes of light (floaters and flashes). In addition to eye floaters, you may notice blurry or double vision and other vision problems.
- Problems with eye movement: You may not be able to move your eyes easily. One eye may move independently from the other.
- Changes in eye appearance: One eye may look crossed (strabismus). The pupils may be different sizes or unusually large or small. One eye may protrude (stick out) from the eye socket more than the other one or look sunken.
- Bleeding: The white part of the eye may look bright red, or you might see small red or black spots in the eye. A red eye can be a sign of an eye injury or several other health conditions.
What causes eye injuries?
Most eye injuries cause damage to the eyeball or the bones and tissues around the eye.
It is possible to injure the eyes while using drills or saws or when mowing or edging the lawn. Other common causes of eye injuries include:
- Sports: Injuries can occur from flying baseballs, tennis balls or volleyballs. Contact sports can also lead to eye injuries (such as an elbow in the face during a basketball game).
- Accidents: A wide range of accidents can damage the eyes, including trauma from sharp objects, blunt force and falls. Car accidents are a common cause of eye injuries, either from impact during a crash or from shattered glass. Eye damage can result from grease splatters while cooking or exposure to chemicals while cleaning the home.
- Workplace hazards: People who work with chemicals, lasers and other irritants are more likely to have an eye injury on the job.
- Strain: Severe exertion while coughing, vomiting or lifting a heavy object can lead to an eye bleeding.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are eye injuries diagnosed?
Your provider will ask about your symptoms and examine your eyes. Your provider may:
- Check your eyes for swelling, redness, bruising, bleeding or tenderness.
- Evaluate how your pupils contract (get bigger or smaller) and how your eyes move.
- Feel for abnormalities in your eyeball and the bones and muscles surrounding your eye.
- Look for foreign objects in the eye.
- Test your vision, dilate your pupils and use special equipment to look inside your eye during an eye exam.
- Depending on the type of injury, your provider may also order imaging studies. X-rays, ultrasounds, CT or MRI scans allow your provider to evaluate fractures and other soft-tissue injuries. Imaging studies produce detailed pictures of your eye and the bones and tissues in the eye area.
Management and Treatment
What are the treatments for eye injuries?
If you or your child has an eye injury, call for help right away. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the eye injury. Serious injuries may require surgery.
For minor eye injuries, treatment may include:
- Cold compresses: Icepacks reduce swelling and relieve pain.
- Eye flushing: Flush chemicals and other irritants with clean water for about 15 minutes.
- Eyedrops: Your provider may prescribe eyedrops to help your eye heal.
- Eye patch: By covering your eye, you’ll allow it to rest while it’s healing.
Can I prevent eye injuries?
Most eye injuries can be prevented by planning ahead and wearing the right equipment. To avoid an eye injury, you should:
- Wear protective glasses or goggles: Eye protection is especially important during sports or activities that put you at a higher risk of an eye injury. Wear appropriate eye protection when using chemicals, doing yard work, sawing wood or using power tools.
- Store chemicals safely: Place detergents, cleaners, bleach and other chemicals out of reach of children. Protect your eyes when using cleaning products.
- Be careful with fireworks: Only adults should handle fireworks. Read labels carefully, and always wear eye protection.
- Never play with laser pointers: Don’t aim a laser pointer at anyone’s eyes, and never let your children play with them.
Outlook / Prognosis
What is the outlook for people with eye injuries?
The outlook for people with eye injuries varies. Early evaluation by an eye doctor and treatment can significantly improve the prognosis and help avoid permanent vision loss. The outlook depends on several factors, including:
- Amount of time before treatment.
- Severity of the injury.
- Type of eye injury.
When should I see my healthcare provider about an eye injury?
Call your provider right away if you or your child has signs of an eye injury. Untreated, many eye injuries can cause low vision, blindness and other eye problems.
If chemicals or other irritants are in the eye, flush the eye with clean water and call your provider. If a sharp object is stuck in the eye, don’t try to remove it. Seek care immediately.
If the injury is severe, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. Significant eye and vision loss associated with eye injuries can result in permanent vision loss if untreated.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
An eye injury can happen to anyone at any time, so be sure to take precautions and wear protective eye gear. If you or your child has an eye injury, don’t rub the eye. Never try to remove a sharp object from the eye or the area around the eye. Some eye injuries can cause permanent vision loss -- get medical care right away.