If you have no other eyewash solution available to you then water is sufficient for rinsing the eyes. Be sure to test the temperature of the water with your hand before putting your eyes into the stream. Remember that your eyes are much more sensitive than your skin and water that feels tepid to the touch might actually feel warmer on your eyes.
Water that is too cold can be just as problematic as too-hot water. The body has a natural objection to cold water and you could react by tightly shutting your eyes if it is too cold, and find them hard to open. Water that is room temperature is the best for thoroughly washing the eyes.
The alternative to a plumbed eyewash station is a portable eyewash station. Portable eyewash stations are often favoured over plumbed thanks to their adaptability and compatibility. They can be installed anywhere, not only where there’s a connection to the main water supply. They also contain sterile, gentle saline solution.
Can you use distilled water as an eyewash?
While tap water is sufficient for rinsing the eyes, there’s always the chance that bacteria from stagnant water in the tap could end up getting into your eyes. This could be dangerous if the reason for the eyewash is to treat an injured eye that may have corneal abrasions where a potential infection could occur.
Another setback of using tap water to clean the eyes is the presence of chlorine and other chemicals. These can cause irritation to the eye and make the eyewash more uncomfortable.
Distilled water is water that has minerals, chemicals and other impurities removed by process of boiling and condensing steam back into a liquid. Distilled water is a more pure and hygienic alternative to tap water and can be used to clean eyes without worrying about the potential for contamination.
You can buy distilled water to use for eye washing or make your own by following these steps:
- A large saucepan or pot
- A glass lid larger than the pot
- A bowl to go into the pot
- Ice (optional)
- Fill the pot with water and put the bowl inside. Be sure that no water spills over the edges of the bowl.
- Bring the pot to a boil and put the lid on top of the pot, inverted.
- Boil the water until condensate has filled the bowl, you could also put the ice on top of the upturned lid in the centre to encourage condensation.
When the water inside the pot evaporates it will condense on the upturned lid, running into the centre which will be the lowest point of the lip and dripping into the bowl. Using a glass lid means you can observe the water in the pot and stop the process once you have enough water or if the water in the pot is about to run dry.
Keep your distilled water in a sterile, sealed bottle.
Boric Acid Solution
Boric acid is a substance that comes from an element called Boron. It can be found in some types of rock and minerals. While boric acid can be toxic if ingested or be an irritant to the skin, in very weak concentrations it can be used as an effective eyewash.
Boric acid has some benefits as an eyewash:
- Antibacterial and antifungal properties that help to fight against infection and growth of fungi in the eyes.
- Buffering agent properties, meaning it can absorb small changes in pH meaning it can maintain a stable pH as an eyewash solution.
- Tonicity-adjusting properties, meaning it can closely match the concentration of dissolved molecules found in the eye and maintain a compatible chemical environment.
There are also some setbacks to using boric acid as an eyewash:
- Pain and discomfort of the eyes
- Redness and swelling of the eye area
- Blurred or distorted vision
- Sores in the eyes or the surrounding area
Proceed with caution when using a boric acid eyewash. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop using it and switch to an eyewash that doesn’t contain boric acid.
How do you make boric acid eyewash?
The internet is peppered with recipes for making your own boric acid eyewash, but doing so could put your eyes at risk. Making up your own boric acid eyewash could lead to contamination as the degree of sterility required to make the solution is not easy to achieve at home.
Boric acid eyewash also needs to be very weak in order to be safe to use. Creating a too-strong solution could lead to an acid burn to the eye, something that wouldn’t be good for a healthy eye, let alone one that has been injured and could present an open wound or existing chemical burn. If you want to use boric acid as an eyewash the best thing to do is buy it from a reputable retailer.
Saline solution is made up of distilled water and sodium chloride (salt). Saline solution is made with 0.9% sodium chloride, making it a similar concentration to tears and blood. This means that it is isotonic, and does not draw out or add fluid to the cells it comes into contact with.
The isotonic nature of saline solution means that it will not negatively affect the trauma area by removing moisture, nor will it cause irritation by being absorbed. It is gentle on the eyes making the eyewash procedure easier to carry out.
Some saline solutions like the Sterowash Eye and Wound Wash contain extra properties that make them conducive to treating a wound or contaminated eye. Sterowash contains anti-microbial properties and is pyrogen-free.
We cover the essentials of eye first aid in our blog. Click the links to learn how to perform an eyewash and what to do in different eye emergencies like an abrasion to the cornea or a chemical burn:
Can eyewash be used as contact solution?
Contact lens solution is designed to break down organic material on your contact lenses and in doing so, disinfect them for their next use. Contact lens solution is commonly made up of saline and cleaning agents to thoroughly disinfect lenses.
Eyewash solution doesn’t make a good contact lens solution substitute because it doesn’t contain the necessary cleaning agents to achieve sufficient disinfection. Using eyewash solution instead of a normal contact lens solution could lead to the growth of bacteria on your contact lenses, putting you at risk of infection next time you wear them.
How to Make Eyewash
Saline solution can be made at home in a pinch using the following steps:
- A saucepan
- Tap water
- Table salt
- Bicarbonate of soda
- A sterilised container
- Boil one pint of water in the saucepan for 15 minutes. You may need to start off with a little over one pint of water to account for water the evaporates during the process.
- Allow the water to cool, add one level teaspoon of salt and one level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and mix until fully dissolved.
- Store your saline solution in the sterilised container for up to 24 hours in the fridge.
There are some downsides to making your own saline solution. For one, since homemade saline solution must be kept chilled, it means that performing an eyewash could be more difficult as the body’s natural reaction to cold water is to shut the eyes.
It’s also important to keep your saline sterile. Any growth of bacteria could make it dangerous to use when performing an eyewash or cleaning a wound. Creating saline solution at home presents a higher risk of contamination than where is it professionally made and bottled in a factory.
Homemade saline solution only has a shelf life of 24 hours before it must be discarded because of the risk of bacteria growth. Since commercially available saline solution is inexpensive, you can save a lot of time and effort by keeping some sterile bottles of eyewash together with your first aid kit or at the eyewash station. Sterowash Eye and Wound Wash has a shelf life of three years in 20ml eyewash pods.
If you run a business and need to know whether you’re required to provide an eyewash station, we can help. Find out everything you need to know about eyewash and eyewash stations in our blog:
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