Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is a common household solution, but many underestimate its danger to kids and adults.1 When bleach comes into contact with your skin or eyes, it can cause severe tissue and nerve damage. This is known as a chemical burn.
If bleach gets into your eyes, flush your eyes immediately with clean lukewarm water for about 15 to 20 minutes, and then seek emergency medical assistance. The faster you act, the better your chances of preventing permanent damage.
How to Flush Your Eyes Properly
To flush your eyes after bleach exposure, keep them open and run clean water over them for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Liquid eyewash or saline solution can also neutralize the bleach.
If you're in an industrial setting, use the eyewash and shower facilities provided in your work area. OSHA regulations require eyewash and/or shower facilities to be provided in high-risk work areas.2
Below are effective ways of flushing your eyes after a chemical splash:
- Pour water on the bridge of your nose and allow it to flow into your affected eye by tilting your head slightly towards the direction of the affected eye. You can hold the eyelid open for water to reach all over the eye.
- Stand in the shower and let the water pour on your forehead, flowing down your face and over the affected eye.
- Fill a sink or basin with water and submerge your face. Blink to ensure the water reaches all parts of the eye.
Flushing Your Eye While Wearing Contacts
Take your time removing contact lenses after bleach gets into your eyes. Do the following for effective flushing:
- Run lukewarm water over your eyes for a few minutes without touching them.
- Wash your hands with soap and water to remove any traces of bleach or dirt.
- Remove your contact lenses gently and continue rinsing for about 15 minutes while you hold the eyelid open.
What Not to Do
Avoid doing the following if bleach splashes into your eye:
- Rub your eyes. This may cause further irritation and accelerate the chemical burn.
- Use eye drops. Unless your emergency personnel advises otherwise, only use water, saline rinse, or eyewash.
When to Seek Medical Attention
After following the first aid steps above, seek emergency medical care. Call 911 or the poison control center at 800-222-1222 for immediate assistance and advice. After emergency care, follow up with your ophthalmologist to ensure treatment success.
Take the bleach container with you to show your eye doctor if possible. However, do this cautiously to avoid another accident.
What Can Happen if You Get Bleach in Your Eye?
Chemical penetration may continue hours after the initial exposure. Prolonged exposure will result in irreversible tissue and nerve damage, causing vision loss.
The extent of the damage can vary depending on:
- The amount of solution you come in contact with
- The time it takes to wash away
- The potency of the formulation
You may experience the following symptoms if bleach gets in your eye:
- Eye pain/burning sensation
- Light sensitivity (photophobia)
- Blurry vision
- Red eyes
- Feeling like an object is in your eye
- Watery eyes (epiphora)
- Uncontrollable eyelid movements (blepharospasm)3
Bleach is an alkali solution with the potential to cause severe chemical burns during prolonged exposure. Chemical burns to the eye can cause:
- Retinal damage
- Corneal perforation
- Glaucoma (increased eye pressure)
- Cataracts (cloudy eye lens)
- Corneal ulcer due to damage to the cornea
- Chronic dry eyes
- Vision loss
- Permanent damage
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your ophthalmologist will examine the extent of damage and recommend solutions to support healing. You may need the following tests:
- Litmus paper test (pH test). This determines if the bleach has been thoroughly rinsed off.
- Slit-lamp test. It allows the doctor to visualize any traces of bleach or eye injury.
- Fluorescein stain test. This tests the extent of eye damage and can detect any fluid leaking from your eye.
- Tonometry. This measures eye pressure.
Treatment after bleach exposure involves continuous eye irrigation to remove the chemical. Depending on the extent of damage, your ophthalmologist may apply an eye patch to allow your eye to heal.
A visit to the emergency room or poison control center may help. Surgery may be necessary if there is tissue damage.
How to Prevent Eye Burn
You can prevent household chemical splashes by doing the following:
- Wear tightly fitting safety goggles when handling household chemicals
- Avoid touching your eyes when handling bleach
- Follow the manufacturer guidelines regarding use and safety
- Use bleach in a well-ventilated room
- Store bleach in safety cabinets, away from children
Avoid mixing bleach with other solutions, such as glass and household cleaners, especially if they contain ammonia. Doing so can result in toxic gases (chloramines).6
- If bleach gets into your eyes, flush your eyes immediately with clean water and seek medical assistance immediately.
- To flush your eyes after bleach exposure, keep them open and run clean water over them for at least 15 to 20 minutes.
- Common symptoms of bleach exposure include eye pain, light sensitivity, watery eyes, blurry vision, blepharospasm, and red eyes.
- Your eye specialist will examine your eyes for any traces of bleach and potential damage. They will also recommend treatment.
- You can prevent bleach accidents by following user guidelines provided by the manufacturer.
In this article