If this is an emergency, please call 000 immediately.
What is smoke and embers in your eyes?
In a medical emergency call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
The most common eye hazards people face in bushfire circumstances are smoke, poisonous and harmful gases, and thermal dangers such as embers and radiating heat.
Smoke from burning vegetation is made up of hundreds of chemicals in a gas, liquid and solid form. These include some toxic aldehydes*, benzene (a known carcinogen), water vapour, harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, and small particles of soot and other materials (as small as 3.5 micrometres**).
Exposure to and contact with these substances can lead to irritation of the eyes.
This guide is regularly updated and aligns with the current edition of Australian First Aid (4th edition, 7/2011)
Signs and Symptoms
Common symptoms following exposure to and contact with smoke include:
- Pain and discomfort
- Redness and watering of the eyes
Possible injuries resulting from exposure to fires and smoke include:
- Abrasions to the cornea
- Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
- Ember burns to the eyelids, eyeballs and face
What to do
If you get smoke in your eyes
Wash your eyes with sterile saline or cold tap water (or eye drops [artificial tears]).
Seek medical aid if pain and discomfort continues.
The blink reflex usually causes the eyelid to close in response to heat. So, fire or thermal injuries generally affect the eyelid rather than the eyeball itself.
If any embers fly into your eye, or if you have had direct fire (thermal) burn to your eye
Do not rub your eye.
Open your eyelid gently and wash your eye with large amounts of cold flowing water for 20 minutes.
Place an eye pad (if available) or light, clean dressing over the injured eye only.
See a doctor if the embers cannot be washed out, or if pain or redness continue.
See a doctor immediately if your vision deteriorates after the burn, or if you have continuing pain and discomfort.
If the burning material includes plastics or rubber, the thermal gases and ember particles are likely to be particularly irritating.
If you feel a foreign body in your eye
Do not rub your eye.
Do not try to remove the foreign object stuck in the eye.
Seek immediate medical attention.