During these challenging times, many of us are focused on keeping our homes clean and free from germs, including the COVID-19 virus. We may be using certain cleaning agents for the first time. It’s important to remember that these contain chemicals that can cause irritation and injury to your eyes, especially when used in areas that are not well ventilated. Exposure to chemical fumes is just as dangerous as splatter into the eye.
In addition to extra cleaning, many of us are now experimenting with home hair coloring because we can’t go to hair salons. Hair dyes also contain chemicals that can endanger eye health and vision.
Alkaline chemicals present in cleaning agents like oven and toilet bowl cleaners, chlorine bleach and ammonia products (also common in hair dyes) can break down cell membranes, burn into the cornea (the eye’s outer covering) and soften the tissues of the eye1. This can result in permanent damage if not treated quickly.
If a chemical gets into your eye, you will likely have one or more of the following symptoms2:
- Pain or burning sensation
- Excessive tearing
- Redness in the eye or eyelids
- Blurred vision
Whether using cleaning agents or hair dye, take the following precautions:
- Before you begin, be sure to read all instructions on the product carefully.
- Wear safety goggles if you have them. If you don’t, wear glasses or sunglasses.
- Remove your contact lenses before using these chemicals.
- Make sure the area where you are working is ventilated – open a door or window.
- Wear gloves if possible and don’t touch your eyes until you have washed your hands carefully.
Here’s what to do if you have a chemical irritation to your eye2:
- First, never rub your eyes.
- Immediately flush the eyes with lukewarm water for 10 to 15 minutes. The best way to do this is to get in the shower and allow the water to rinse your eyes. You can also try a warm compress to flush out the chemicals. If you were wearing contact lenses, don’t try to take them out.
- While flushing your eyes, pull the lids up and down and look in all directions.
- Now remove your contact lenses if they did not come out while you were flushing.
- Call your eye doctor.
Eye injuries caused by chemical burns send tens of thousands of people in the U.S. to the emergency room each year1. Careful use of cleaning agents and hair dyes will prevent you from being one of them.