Poison centers like the IPC commonly handle eye exposure cases, with over 90,000 ocular exposures reported nationally in 2020 alone. Over the past five years, IPC has averaged just over 3,000 eye exposure cases per year. These exposures are usually accidental, often caused by an unintentional splash of liquid or gel, or sometimes resulting from an eye drop mix-up. Here are some of the more common mishaps managed by the IPC.
Image credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that eye drop and ear drop mix-ups are very common “because eye drop and ear drop medicine bottles look very similar. Both use a dropper with a rubber bulb at the top. Even the medical terms for eyes (optic) and ears (otic) are only one letter off, making it difficult to see the difference on the packaging and labeling.” These mix-ups can cause red, burning or stinging eyes, as well as swelling and blurry vision, but generally these symptoms are short-lived. However, certain substances can lead to some very serious injuries. For example:
Photo credit: Thomas L. Steinemann, MD
Nail Glue and Super Glue
Here’s a common case: A 29-year-old woman woke up in the middle of the night and went into her bathroom looking for some eye drops. She squirted liquid from a small dropper bottle into her eyes and immediately knew something was wrong. She had grabbed a highly toxic nail glue that binds to skin in seconds.
There are almost too many cases to mention involving Super Glue. However, one case hit home since it actually happened to an IPC staff member. After generously applying Super Glue to a laminated piece of paper, the IPC staffer quickly picked up the paper and the glue popped right off the paper and into their eye!
Both glues are cyanoacrylates and cause irritation and a burning feeling. There’s the dreaded possibility of gluing the eye shut. Tip: Never try to “pry” the eye open as this can lead to injury. Seek medical attention ASAP if glue comes into contact with your eye.
Image credit: Amazon.com/Acrylic-Applicator-Manicure-Adhesive
Hot/Chili Peppers and Pepper Spray
While cutting hot peppers, one IPC caller accidentally rubbed his eye(s), much like in this scene from the movie Playing with Fire. An article from Science News for Students describes the chemical reaction: “Capsaicin inside the pepper activates a protein in people’s cells called TRPV1. This protein’s job is to sense heat. When it does, it alerts the brain. The brain then responds by sending a jolt of pain back to the affected part of the body.” Cool, huh? (Pun intended!)
Pepper spray contains oleoresin of capsicum (derived from chili peppers) which is the chemical that makes Tabasco® sauce hot. Accidental eye exposures that involve pepper spray happen in a variety of ways. IPC receives many calls regarding young kids who find small containers of pepper spray attached to key chains or in a purse. They accidentally spray themselves in the eyes, leading to intense eye pain, crying, etc.
Accidental adult exposures to pepper spray are common calls as well. Some IPC staff experienced this firsthand during a conference dinner in Vancouver. Someone outside the restaurant released pepper spray which then entered and lingered inside the restaurant for the duration of the evening. Even with the restaurant doors opened to allow for fresh air, our staff members’ eyes burned for the duration of the meal (luckily the food and company were good!).
Image credit: iStock photo ID:970445504
Recently, there have been more cases of children who have accidentally gotten sanitizer in their eyes, resulting in chemical injuries. One reason is that many public hand sanitizer dispensers are placed three feet off the ground, which just happens to be at a young child’s eye level. Unfortunately, this can subject young kids to increased risk of eye exposure to hazardous chemicals. For example, CNN recently reported on two severe cases that required major eye surgery. Many hand sanitizers have a high concentration of ethanol, which can kill cells in the cornea of the eye. However, some contain isopropyl alcohol, which is the ingredient in rubbing alcohol.
Image credit: https://images.app.goo.gl/kMav7HkKcESumcEL8
The IPC receives countless calls regarding rubbing alcohol splashed into a person’s eye(s), usually while they’re using the product to clean. If the pain causes the person to rub their eye(s), the rubbing action can scratch the cornea.
And speaking of eyes and alcohol, here’s another true story from an IPC staff: “My grandfather had a glass eye and had to clean it with a boric acid solution (similar to saline). He accidentally used rubbing alcohol because the bottles were next to each other in the bathroom. Needless to say, it hurt like heck, but he was fine.”
Image credit: Walmart.com
Many eye exposures occur because a cleaning product (like bleach and laundry pods) splashed into a person’s eye when no protective eye wear was worn. Bleach is a corrosive chemical and causes an immediate burning sensation and eye watering as well as severe eye injury in some cases. Laundry pods/packets can be easily punctured and splashed into the eyes. The small pod contains highly concentrated detergent and therefore can cause eye irritation and even chemical burns.
Image credit: pngkey.com u2q8u2a9t4t4q8r5
Many disinfectants come in spray bottles. Accidents usually happen when a person mistakenly aims the bottle nozzle in the wrong direction, or as a result of kids playing with the cleaning product spray bottles.
To prevent these or similar issues from happening to you and/or others, we encourage you to always:
- Read the label of any product/substance closely before using it—turn on a light and wear glasses when necessary;
- Carefully read and follow instructions before administering any drops into eyes;
- Follow these six tips to avoid eye drop mix-ups;
- Keep them apart. Do not store eye drops with any other drop bottles (like ear drops, Super Glue or your pet’s medication drops).
- Leave your eye drops and ear drops in their original boxes. There are often pictures of an ear or eye on the boxes, but not on the bottles.
- Learn the name and cap color of your medications so you take them correctly. If you can’t see your eye drop bottles clearly enough to tell them apart, tell your doctor.
- Check your medicine—out loud. Read the dropper label out loud to help avoid mistakes.
- Take eye and ear drops at different times. This can help reduce the risk of mixing them up as you put them in your eyes/ears.
- Throw away leftover drops. Get rid of any leftover drops once you are through using them. The fewer the bottles, the fewer to get mixed up.
- Follow these six tips to avoid eye drop mix-ups;
- If an eye exposure occurs and you are wearing contacts, remove them immediately. Rinse the affected eye for 15 minutes with lukewarm/body-temperature tap water. Learn more on IPC’s First Aid For Eyes
MOST OF ALL, DON’T PANIC!
If something happens, don’t hesitate to call the IPC’s free, confidential 24/7/365 expert helpline at 800-222-1222. No question or issue is too big or too small (or too embarrassing). Just call!
Vickie and the IPC Team
P.S. Got an experience to share or want to hear more about a certain type of exposure or substance? Leave us a comment below and/or email us at IPCadmin@team-iha.org!
Uh oh! I shouldn’t have put that…in my mouth! (part 1 of 3)
Uh oh! I shouldn’t have put that…in my mouth! (part 2 of 3)
Uh oh! I shouldn’t have put that,,,in my mouth! Pediatric summertime ingestions, the not-so-good, the bad and the ugly (part 3 of 3)
Uh oh! I shouldn’t have put that…in my nose! (part 4)
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