Toddlers are at Highest Risk of Chemical Eye Burns

Toddlers are at Highest Risk of Chemical Eye Burns

An American study published in October in JAMA Ophthalmology found that children ages 1-2 are at highest risk of chemical burns to the eyes.

Once, when my oldest children were ages 2 and 1, I heard the characteristic sound that pricks the ears of all parents of toddlers: silence.

I went to investigate, and as I rounded the corner of the hallway to my daughters’ play room, I caught my 2-year-old spray my 1-year-old in the face with a bottle of vinegar-based household cleaner.

A call to the poison control center later, I was holding my 1-year-old over the bathroom sink, attempting to wash her eyes with water. Fortunately, there were no lasting effects. But it was the only warning I needed to make sure household cleaners were moved to a cabinet that is locked.

Turns out, I’m far from the only parent who has had this experience. An American study published in October in JAMA Ophthalmology found that children ages 1-2 are at highest risk of chemical burns to the eyes.

According to this study, approximately 28 out of 100,000 1-year-olds and 23 out of every 100,000 2-year-olds experience chemical eye burns. Compare this to the adult statistic, where only 13 out of every 100,000 of 18- to 64-year-olds had a chemical eye burn. Children ages 6-14, as well as adults older than 74, had the lowest rates of chemical eye burns.

This study is really the first of its kind to look at chemical eye burns on a national scale, across age groups. But researchers admit that it is far from complete. The database from which the stats came from recorded chemical eye burn treatments in hospital emergency rooms. The analysis did not include cases treated at urgent care centers, opthalmology clinics, or when the poison control center was called instead of a health care visit.

Still, the stats of this “tip of the iceberg” study are sobering: By far, even with adults, most chemical eye burns happen at home.

I can only speculate how adults are injuring themselves at home. If anyone is like my husband, he doesn’t necessarily darn the safety goggles when he should. But what about toddlers?

We all know how curious, and undaunted, toddlers can be. And we know to put caustic household cleaning products like bleach and window cleaners up high, or in a locked cabinet, out of the reach of children. But there are other products that can be just as dangerous and should also be kept in lock-down, including vinegar, nail polish remover, laundry detergent packets, and even alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Different types of chemical eye burns have different outcomes. Some cause irritation. Others affect visual sharpness, or even cause blindness. Burned eyelids can deform.

Alkaline chemicals, such as oven cleaners, drain uncloggers, and ammonia products, are more destructive than acid agents. Alkaline burns tend to destroy, rather than simply irritate, tissue.

As with many warnings like these, prevention is the very best medicine. Spray bottles should be twisted to the “off” position, and other containers secured. All household cleaners should be stored up high, much like medications are to be. Gone should be the day when household cleaners are stored under a sink, at eye level and within reach of toddlers.

If a chemical does get into anyone’s eye, emergency ophthalmologists advise immediately flushing the eye with water for 20 minutes. This can be done under the sink or in the bath. Then, head to the nearest emergency room.


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