To Flush or Not To Flush: The Right Way To Treat Eye Injuries

The first step most people take when an eye injury occurs is flush the eyes out with water. But is that the right choice? Or could that cause more damage? It depends on the cause of the eye injury. If your child has a cut or a puncture, washing the eyes out with water is NOT the right choice. But if he or she gets a little sand in his or her eyes while playing in the sandbox at the park, using a little lukewarm water to rinse it out works just fine. Different kinds of eye injuries require different treatments.

No matter how much we try to prevent eye injuries with special shampoos and eye protection and by putting dangerous chemicals out of reach of children, eye injuries still occur. Treating an eye injury properly can prevent permanent damage and reduce pain more quickly.

  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
  • Do not touch, rub or apply pressure to the eye.
  • Do not try to remove any objects stuck in the eyes.
  • Do not apply ointment or medication to the eyes.
  • Avoid giving aspirin, ibuprofen or other non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs thin the blood and may increase bleeding.
  • Keep children calm and comfortable, as possible. Swaddle a baby to prevent them from trying to touch their eyes.
  • See a doctor as soon as possible, preferably an ophthalmologist.

The best way to treat an eye injury depends on the cause of the injury: cuts and punctures, foreign particles and material debris, chemical burns, blow to the eye, or sand and small debris.

Cuts and punctures:

  • Use sterile tape or a roller bandage to gently apply a shield or patch to the bones surrounding the eye. Keep pressure off the eye.
  • Do not rinse with water.
  • After you have finished protecting the eye, see a physician immediately.

Foreign particles and material debris:

  • Lift the upper eyelid over the lashes of your lower lid.
  • Blink several times and allow tears to flush out the particle.
  • If the particle remains, keep your eye closed and seek medical attention.

Chemical burns:

  • Immediately flush the eye with eyewash or plenty of lukewarm clean water.
  • Seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

Blow to the eye:

  • Gently apply a small cold compress to reduce pain and swelling; do not apply any pressure.
  • If a black eye, pain or visual disturbance occurs even after a light blow, immediately contact an eye medical professional or visit an emergency room.
  • Even a light blow can cause a significant eye injury.

Sand or small debris:

  • Use lukewarm clean water or eyewash to flush the eye out.
  • Reminder: do not rub the eye.
  • If the debris doesn’t come out, lightly bandage with gauze and tape or gently wrap a sterile roller bandage around head. See an eye medical professional or visit the nearest emergency room quickly.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that a medical professional, preferable an ophthalmologist, examine the eye as soon as possible, even if the injury seems minor at first. A serious injury is not always immediately obvious. Delaying medical attention can cause the damaged areas to worsen and could result in permanent vision loss or blindness.

Eye injuries sounds scary and should be taken seriously. But the good news is, according to a Rhode Island Medical Journal article, 97% of emergency department eye injury visits resulted in the child being treated and released. Learn more about preventing eye injuries in our blog post Beyond No-Tears Shampoo: Preventing Eye Injuries. And remember to consider the injury before deciding to flush or not to flush!


Disclaimer:  This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  It is provided for educational purposes only.