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When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

The most common eye hazards people face in bushfire circumstances are smoke, noxious/poisonous gases, or thermal hazards such as embers from fires.

Smoke from vegetation is composed of hundreds of chemicals in gaseous, liquid and solid forms. These include noxious gases (e.g. carbon monoxide), aldehydes, benzene, water vapour and small particles of carbon and other materials (median aerodynamic equivalent diameter of 3.5μm).

Exposure to these substances (especially carbon monoxide and aldehydes) can lead to irritation of the eye upon contact.

Common symptoms following exposure to and contact with smoke include pain, discomfort, redness and watering of the eyes.

Other possible injuries resulting from exposure to fires and smoke include corneal abrasions, conjunctivitis (red eyes) and ember burns to the eyelids, eyeball and face.


1. If you get any smoke in your eye:

  • Wash with sterile saline or cold tap water (or artificial tears)
  • Seek medical aid if necessary

The blink reflex usually cases the eye to close in response to heat, hence thermal injuries tend to affect the eyelid rather than the eye itself.

2. If any embers fly into your eye OR if you had a direct fire/thermal burn to your eye:

  • Do not rub the eye
  • Open your eyelid gently and wash your eye with large amounts of cold flowing water for 20 minutes
  • Place an eye pad or light clean dressing over injured eye only (if available)
  • See a doctor if the specks cannot be washed out or redness continues
  • See a doctor immediately if your vision has deteriorated after the burn or if pain and discomfort continues

If the burning material includes plastics or rubbers, the gases and particles are likely to be particularly irritating.

3. If you feel you have a foreign body in your eye:

  • Do not rub the eye
  • Do not try to remove the foreign object stuck in the eye
  • Seek immediate medical attention

IMPORTANT: If you are administering first aid for ANY eye injury, DO NOT:

    • Touch the eye or any contact lens
    • Allow the patient to rub their eyes
    • Try to remove any object which is penetrating the eye
    • Apply pressure when bandaging the eye


For resource materials and references, please click here.







Last updated: January 10, 2020

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