by Shadi Awwad, MD
Chemical injury to the eye can be of two kind:
B. Alkali (basic)
Acids are usually twice less common as a source of injury
than alkali. They are usually found in car batteries and industrial
cleaners (H2SO4), silicone production, glass polishing, gasoline
alkylation(HF), Vinegar(acetic acid), chrome plating industry(Cr2O3)
Alkali are found in cleaning agents and fertilizers(ammonia
NH3), drain cleaners(Lye, NaOH), sparklers(Magnesium hydroxide Mg(OH)2),
plaster, cement(lime, Ca(OH)2)
Alkali are usually more damaging to the human eye than acids, with the
exception of some strong acids like hydrofluoric acid (HF)
B. Complications of chemical eye injury:
Injury to the outermost layer of the cornea (the epithelium) that can
be irreversible and necessitating surgical procedures (such as limbal cell
Corneal perforation: that can be acute with the strong alkali like ammonia
(NH3) and lye ( NAOH), or late in onset (up to 6weeks after the
injury, when corneal melting takes over corneal regeneration)
Corneal scarring and subsequently poor vision, that will ultimately become
established occur at a later stage
High intra-ocular pressure that might occur at time of injury or later
with subsequent risk of glaucoma.
Infection that usually establishes over the denuded cornea.
-As soon as the injury happens, run to the
nearest water source and promptly irrigate the involved eye with
running waterfor about 15 minutes. Mere washing is not
-See the closest eye specialist to have
your eyes adequately irrigated and assessed.
-have the chemical pamphlet or bottle with
you if available for the physician to know which kind of
injury he's dealing with, and which
compound: this affects treatment and prognosis
-Injury is usually graded into I, II,
III, IV according to severity and limbal cell affection (limbal cells
being to precursors of the outermost layer of the cornea. They are usually
precious because they don't divide.
First 3-6 weeks:
-Treatment includes steroids eye drops for
the first 10 days, together with antibiotics, +/- tetracycline, citrate
and ascorbate(vitamin C)eyedrops, and Vitamin C tablets and
sometimes Doxycycline antibiotic tablets as well.
-Close follow-ups are to be expected.
-Grade I and II usually heal without
-Grade III and IV usually require
surgery on top of the medical treatment.
-Surgeries include Corneal transplantation, "glue" instillation,
stem cell transplantation, amniotic membranes, tenoplasty,