Eye Injuries – Monday’s Medical Moment

Eye injuries on adventures are hard to see!  Okay, that was a really bad joke, but seriously. Yikes!  These are hard injuries to witness. Some eye injuries are like straight out of a horror movie; objects penetrating an eye!

The more common eye injuries, when adventuring and enjoying the outdoors, are dirt, sand, etc. getting blown into the eye(s).  Most often these types of eye injuries are not a deal breaker for adventurers.  To treat eye injuries of this nature:

  1. Look in the eye, including under upper and lower lids.
  2. If there is something resting on the eye, like a piece of dirt, AFTER WASHING YOUR HANDS, attempt to GENTLY remove.
  3. Irrigate eye(s) with the cleanest water you have on hand.  If someone has sterile water, or an actual eye washing solution with them, that is even better.
  4. When confident the eye is free of dirt, etc.  let the eye rest.  It may take a while for it to stop itching/burning.
  5. Ice or a cold rag may help the itching/burning.
  6. Placing a soft, loose “patch” over injured eye, for comfort, is acceptable for a little while, but is not necessary.
  7. If there is still pain and concerns with the eye after 24 hours, it is best to seek out a higher level of care.


BONE:  DO NOT RUB YOUR EYE WHEN IT FEELS LIKE THERE IS SOMETHING IN IT.  Oh so hard not to, but rubbing  the eye when there is a foreign object in it, increases the chance of actually scratching the eye (corneal abrasion).

A less common eye injury is a blunt trauma to the eye, like a branch swinging back and “punching” your eye.  Or maybe you tend to say things you shouldn’t and there’s a little too much drinking at camp, and POW!  If there is any appearance of injury to the eye ball (globe), like a tear, or bleeding, or there are any changes in pupils or ability to see properly, it is advisable to seek an evaluation from a medical professional as soon as possible. Treatment, at least until advised by a medical professional, is ice, to help decrease swelling.

Another kind of eye injury is what is called “snow blindness”.  Eyes will feel like there is sand in them.  A person with snow blindness could also be sensitive to light, have blurred vision, tearing, and both eyes may be red and swollen.  Treatment would include:

  1. Remove contacts, if wearing.
  2. Cool rags to eyes.
  3. Avoidance of sun/snow until symptoms are gone, which general takes 1 to 2 days

This brings up to our final eye injury example, and the most terrifying to experience, or see; penetrating eye injuries!

BONE:  WHEN THERE IS AN OBJECT STUCK IN/STICKING OUT OF AN EYE, DO NOT PULL IT OUT!  You can cause more damage by pulling object out, including leakage of important fluids out of the eye.  This includes fish hooks!

When there is a penetrating eye injury, you need to do what we call “stabilize” the object, meaning use a clean piece of material, or gauze, to wrap around the object, and secure in a manner that it will reduce the movement of the object.  It may take quite a bit of material/gauze to hold the object relatively still.  While it has been said to also patch the other eye, because eyes move together, it is now said to NOT patch the other eye, as the eyes will move anyway. Especially in a wilderness setting, it is best if the injured party can see with at least one eye, while proceeding with evacuation.  If there are no other injuries, injured person may be able to walk out of the wilderness, with assistance.  Being able to see out of the non injured eye also aides in injured person being able to protect injured eye. If injured person needs to be carried out, don’t make them lay completely down, if it can be avoided, as that will put more pressure on the eye.  Yes, your adventure setting has now changed to the hospital setting!

Feel free to live comments about your wilderness adventures!  Do you have any advice?  Have you learned a different way?  Pleas share your thoughts.  And if this was helpful for you, please share with your friends and family!!

*For those of you that do not know, I am an RN.  I have practiced in an ICU/Emergency Room setting for the majority of my almost 12 years of being a nurse.  I have completed my Wilderness Upgrade For Medical Professionals in 2016, with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).  In an attempt to make wilderness medical situations/emergencies just a little less scary and/or confusing for those who don’t have medical training, I am going to periodically put out “Monday’s Medical Moment” posts. Posts will be for basic information only.  Care and treatment by a medical professional is not to be replaced by this post. 

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