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Batteries contain sulfuric acid  This type of chemical burn can be very damaging to eye health, depending on how far into the eye the acid is allowed to travel.  Immediate and aggressive flushing (good clean tap water is O.K.) is required for 20 minutes before the victim is driven to the local Emergency department by a family member or ambulance driver.  Stand in the shower or tilt head under a tap to flush the affected eye or eyes with clean lukewarm water.

Most people are surprised to learn how many household products contain acids similar to the sulfuric acid in car batteries.  Hydrofluoric and acetic are some of the acids founds in common household agents such as nail polish, glass polish, vinegar.  The only good news is that alkali burns are generally worse than acid burns (with the exception of hydrofluoric acid) for eye health.  Alkali burns from chemicals with a higher pH or alkaline (such as ammonia, drain and oven cleaners, fertilizers, plaster and cement) are more likely to penetrate the eye surface (cornea) and cause injury to components of the internal structure such as the lens (which can lead to conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma) than acid burns from chemicals with a low pH.

In the case of acid and alkali burns, seeking medical help after flushing is not optional but a must.  Some agents that cause eye irritation (pain, redness, tearing, blurred vision, eyelid swelling) have a neutral pH and may cause temporary discomfort without permanent damage.  Many household cleansers fall into this category.  Anyone experiencing the effects of irritants should monitor symptoms before deciding whether or not to seek medical advice, remembering that when it comes to vision, being safe is best. 

At the hospital, medical staff will continue to flush the affected eyes until the pH reaches a normal level (testing may be done with a litmus paper).  They will flush out any foreign particles then determine the extent of the damage, if any.  They may conduct an eye stain test that uses dye and blue light to show up damage.  Antibiotics may be prescribed if the surface of the eye has been compromised to reduce the risk of infection and possibly anti-inflammatories to prevent detrimental long-term effects.

How can this chain of events be avoided?  Wearing safety glasses in the workshop is the best way to protect the eyes from all risks.  And refrain from touching the eyes when working with chemicals.  Keep a supply of saline solution and an eye cup on hand for flushing.

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