Eyes are one of the most sensitive organs in the human body. Fortunately, nature has provided the eyes with their own defense mechanism, i.e. eyelids and eyelashes. But eyelids as well as the corneal area of the eyes can be damaged in case the eyes get burned. All of us have experienced mild burning in the eyes by accidently exposing our eyes to shampoos, soaps, hair sprays etc. Generally, the irritation and the redness caused in such cases is mild, and can go away in sometime.

In cases where the eyes are accidently exposed to chemicals or heat, the eyelids close in reflex to protect the eyes. In such cases, where the eyes are shut with some chemical substance present in the tissue, closing of the eyelids actually harm the eyes because it means that the chemical substance is in contact with eyes for a longer duration.  Ocular burns can affect the conjunctiva, sclera eyelids or the cornea. All burns should be promptly assessed and treated. The degree of ocular burn is determined by the type of the causative agent as well as the duration of the exposure to that agent.

Types Of Burns

There can be two causes of burns to the eyes; chemical and thermal. The most dangerous burns are caused by strong acids and alkalis. Generally, the alkali burns are considered to be more dangerous than acid burns. Mostly, the eyes get burned by liquid and in some cases, the burns can also be caused by powdered substances, which when get blown in the eye, can stick to the corneal area of the eyes.

The severity of chemical burns can be determined by the ph level of the chemical, the penetratibility of the chemical and the quantity. Severe chemical burns affect the corneal portion of the eyes. Alkali burns can cause scarring, perforation and redness of the eyes. As such burns are severely painful; the patient has the tendency to keep the eyes closed. But instead of helping, this worsens the problem. Chemical burns in the eyes should be treated as soon as possible, while waiting for the medical personnel to arrive. The eye should be kept open and should be flushed and should be irrigated with saline or water. The wound should be irrigated continuously for 30-120 minutes. Since the condition is quite painful, the patient might not be able to keep the eyes open himself, therefore, somebody else should keep the patient’s eye open and flush the burn. Post the first aid, the doctors check the cornea and the insides of the eyelids and also check for any embedded residue of the chemical substance. The doctors also clean the insides of the eyelids by swabbing to remove any chemicals residue. The doctor may also give anesthetic eye drops to dilate the pupil which relaxes that part of the eye. Although anesthetic eye drops do provide pain relief, they slow down the healing process and hence are not given after the initial irrigation. If there is a corneal burn, an ointment is put in the eye. Very severe burns should be treated by an ophthalmologist. The treatment should be ensured within 24 hours of the incident so that the vision can be preserved and other severe complications like perforation of the eye, eyelid deformities and serious complications can be avoided.

The other types of burns that can be sustained by the eyes are thermal burns which are also known as radiant energy burns. Such burns are caused by UV radiation, heat or electricity. Thermal burns are treated like other normal burns. Such burns generally affect the eyelids rather than the cornea or conjunctiva. Fortunately, the thermal burns in the cases of cornea and conjunctiva are generally mild and do not cause any lasting damage. Although, there may not be much damage, such burns can be very painful and the patient might require analgesics. The doctor may prescribe antibiotic treatment to prevent any infection. In some cases, cycloplegic eye drops may be given to avoid the painful spasm of the pupil. The burns to the eyelids can be caused by chemical fumes and vapors also.

Radiant energy burns can be caused when the eyes are suddenly exposed to extremely bright lights, like the lights from tanning booths or sun lamps. Sudden bursts of flame from explosives or flash fires may also cause such burns. Injuries may also be caused by laser when the light of the laser turns in to heat which causes retinal injury. Eyes can also be damaged by exposure to the bright reflected light which is reflected off snow or water.

It is important to wear protective safety goggles and mask to protect the eyes. People, who are exposed to the UV light of welding equipment, must always wear safety gear.

Once the skin burns have occurred, it is necessary to consult a top oculoplastic surgeon like Dr. Debraj Shome, who may use medical treatment first and later use plastic surgery and skin grafting to treat the burnt skin.