Eye injuries are common and can occur during everyday activities. The Royal College of General Practitioners and Royal College of Ophthalmologists estimate that 3.2 of corneal eye injury cases and 2.7 of foreign body cases per 1000 people visit primary care services every year (Source: NICE).
Eye injuries commonly arise from workplace incidents or sports. Some minor eye injuries result in a black or bloodshot eye, while more severe injuries can lead to serious complications and even blindness.
Some of the most common eye injuries include a foreign body in the eye, a scratched eye (superficial corneal abrasion) from a sharp object, a blow to the eye from a blunt object, or a chemical burn from cleaning products or hazardous materials (Source: NIdirect).
To protect the eyes from injury, wear protective eyewear like safety glasses where applicable and use first aid if an eye injury occurs.
A black eye refers to visible bruising around the eye caused by damaged blood vessels bleeding under the skin. Black eyes are not usually concerning. However, in some cases, they can indicate a more severe injury that needs urgent medical attention, like a bone fracture to the eye socket or skull.
Read the NHS advice for when to seek medical help for a black eye.
A scratched eyeball, or corneal abrasion, occurs when something scratches the delicate surface of the eye (cornea). Corneal foreign bodies could be dust, metal or wood particles and sand. Corneal abrasion accounts for around 8% of eye problems seen in primary care settings (Source: American Academy of Ophthalmology).
Most scratches to the eyeball heal on their own, but a severe laceration needs a medical assessment and could lead to permanent damage or blindness without appropriate treatment.
You might experience a bruise around the eye or in the eye that looks different from a black eye. Just as the blood vessels under the skin can bleed and cause bruising, the delicate blood vessels in the eyeball can also bleed if damaged. Always see your doctor for an eye exam if you have bruising to the eyeball. Bleeding can occur in different parts of the eye as a result of injury.
- In a subconjunctival haemorrhage, blood pools under the conjunctiva and is visible over the white of the eye (the sclera) as a red patch. A subconjunctival haemorrhage usually results from a scratch to the eye or blunt injury to the face and should clear up on its own in around two weeks.
- Blood may collect in the front of the eye between the iris and cornea (anterior chamber) and can sometimes be seen as a fluid level (hyphaema).
- A vitreous haemorrhage is a bleed into the jelly substance in the eye. Symptoms include a red eye, floaters and impaired vision (Source: Patient).
What happens if you get bleach in your eye?
If you get bleach in your eye, you need urgent medical attention and should go to A&E or call for an ambulance (Source: NHS). While waiting for medical help, wash out the eye repeatedly using clean water, remove contact lenses if you can and avoid rubbing the eye.
Bleach is a corrosive substance that causes chemical burns to the tissues in and around the eyes, potentially leading to serious eye injury and permanent loss of vision without treatment.
What to do if something is stuck in your eye
Tiny objects or particles like dust, debris, glass, and metals can get stuck in your eyes or under the upper eyelid. If you have something stuck in your eye, avoid rubbing it and causing more damage.
To remove something stuck in your eye:
- Wash your hands before touching the eyes
- Remove contact lenses
- Blink a lot to try to wash away the object
- Bathe the eye in a saline solution or clean water
- If you can see the object after bathing the eye, try to carefully remove it using the corner of a tissue or damp cloth (Source: St John Ambulance)
If you have something sharp, like glass or a metal splinter in your eye, seek urgent medical attention and don’t try to remove the object yourself.
What is eye trauma?
Eye trauma is a blow or injury that damages the eye itself or surrounding tissues. Common types of blunt eye trauma include being hit in the eye with a ball while playing sports or an impact from a fall or punch.
Minor eye damage can resolve on its own, but more severe injury requires medical attention, for example if the eye has been pierced or ruptured (penetrating eye injury). If you experience eye pain, deformity, bleeding or vision problems after eye trauma, you’ll need an emergency ophthalmology assessment (Source: Blunt Eye Trauma).
A severe blow to the eye from an object larger than the eye socket (like a sports racket) can cause an orbital blowout fracture, where part of the eye socket bone is fractured. Symptoms include double vision, reduced eye movements, changes in eye position, like cross-eyes (strabismus), swelling and bleeding (Source: SportsMD, AAO). This type of ocular injury requires urgent medical attention.
Frequently asked questions
Common causes of eye injuries include blunt trauma, like a fall or punch, getting hit by a ball, and a foreign body or corrosive substance in the eye. Wearing eye protection in high-risk situations can help protect your eyes from injury, particularly in the workplace or during ball sports.
If you do sustain an eye injury, it’s always best to get it checked out by a doctor to make sure it doesn’t impact your vision and eye health in the long term.
Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 28/07/2022
Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.