Saving Your Vision From Super Glue In The Eyes

Super glue, or cyanoacrylate as it is formally known, is one heck of a useful adhesive. Developed in the 20th century as a result of a program to create plastic gun sights, it is loved for its ability to bond all manner of materials quickly and effectively. Wood, metal, a wide variety of plastics — super glue will stick ’em all together in a flash.

It’s also particularly good at sticking to human skin, and therein lies a problem. It’s bad enough when it gets on your fingers. What happens when you get super glue in your eyes?

Today, we’ll answer that. First, with the story of how I caught an eyeful of glue. Following that, I’ll share some general tips for when you find yourself in a sticky situation.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Glue

It was a beautiful summer’s evening in the suburbs, and I had been called upon to help a friend repair their car. The bulb holder in the tail light had broken, rendering it legally undrivable. It was all set to be an easy fix, just slot the plastic pieces gently back together before applying some glue to hold it all together, perhaps with some reinforcement to add some strength.

Unfortunately, I’d only brought hand tools, not realizing the job would call for adhesives. The glue available on site was super glue, but not my favored brand. It was a Loctite gel concoction — thick and gooey. In this form, the glue is easy to apply precisely and accurately, but it doesn’t readily penetrate cracks.

I’ve always been one to use the cheap and nasty stuff. It comes in packs of 8 for a dollar and it’s incredibly runny. It’s the perfect glue for when you need it to seep into the cracks of a broken plastic part and knit everything back together. I decided to go home and fetch a tube, as I couldn’t get the gel to do what I wanted.

Immediately, there was success. I’d managed to glue the bulb holder back together, and also glue the tube to my fingers. This was very much standard operating procedure, so I wasn’t particularly worried. I began to peel my fingers from the tube. Unfortunately, as my digits pulled free of the tube, the nozzle flicked a fat droplet of glue directly towards my face, landing in the corner of my eye.

I considered this a rather negative development. Luckily, I was able to keep my eye from blinking shut, and quickly held it open with my fingers. I also exclaimed rather loudly, in a less than joyous fashion. My friends rushed to my aid, and were able to lead me inside while I tried to avoid moving my eye as much as possible.

One of my friends was a contact lens user. This meant a saline eye rinse was available, and I flushed my eye repeatedly without blinking. After I was certain the glue was gone from the delicate white of my eyes, I very gingerly blinked. I was overjoyed when my eye reopened without sticking itself shut, and let out a deep sigh of relief.

I then proceeded to gently wipe away hardened glue from my lower eyelid and eyelashes. I was certain I had narrowly avoided disaster. Once all was calm, I decided to commence my research into just how bad that could have been.

The Facts

Ocular injuries from super glue are surprisingly common. Thankfully, it’s not as bad as it may initially seem.

I was certain that I had narrowly avoided losing all vision in one eye. My research quickly proved that was not the case. A literature study by Dr. Sagili Chandrasekhara Reddy covered 53 cases of super glue instillation in the eye over a period of 30 years. No cases of serious ocular damage were reported. In most occurances, medical professionals removed glue from the eye with forceps, trimmed stuck eyelashes, and irrigated the eye. Notably, no cases of serious ocular morbidity were reported. In layman’s terms, that means everyone went home with a pair of working eyeballs.

Surprisingly, this holds true for cases where significant amounts of glue have been squirted directly into the eyes. This happens more often than you might expect — tubes of super glue are often confused with eye drops, and it’s a common way for children to present to the ER. Even if you squirt the glue right in your eyes, you’re still unlikely to do any permanent damage.

Brown Emergency Medicine also note a lack of reports of serious eye damage due to super glue. Their advice states that if super glue is bonded to the eyeball or eyelids, that the eye can simply be irrigated with warm water, patched, and left alone. The glue should dissociate from the eye proteins and skin over a period of 1-4 days, and the eye will once again open.

What To Do When The Glue Strikes

If you are unlucky enough to get glue in your eyes, it can be quite a stressful experience. While such an incident is quite confronting, staying calm and not doing anything reckless is the key to protecting your vision. The following does not serve as medical advice, but as a general guide as to how to handle an ocular adhesive incident.

Your first step should be to avoid blinking if possible. This will only serve to increase the likelihood of gluing your eyes shut as the eyelids come together. Super glue sets in the presence of moisture, so this can also make it more likely the eyelids become stuck to the eyeball as well.

Following this, it’s important not to panic. Rash measures are far more likely to cause permanent eye damage than the super glue itself. Avoid trying to wipe the glue out, or putting any solid objects near the eye.

Thirdly, if safe, it can be helpful to flush the eye. This can be done with clean water or an appropriate medical solution, such as saline used by contact lens users. Whatever you use should be eye safe. Using anything to dissolve the glue is an absolute no-no (chemicals like acetone or nail polish removers will cause untold damage). If you’re at all unsure, skip this step entirely.

The final step is to seek professional medical attention. Doctors, nurses and surgeons have the proper training to deal with such injuries, along with the equipment required to treat them safely. Additionally, while super glue may not do any serious damage, it is possible to cause corneal abrasions or damage to the conjunctiva. Left untreated, this can lead to poor vision or infection. Eye drops or patching may be required in these cases, along with a consult with an ophthalmologist. If you’re out in the woods and help is days away, you might try rinsing your eyes and patching them for a few days, and they should reopen, but it’s always best to seek professional treatment wherever possible.

Play it Safe

In summary, super glue is a wonderful tool that need not be feared. However, to avoid a long night in the ER and embarassing yourself in front of your workmates, be careful out there. Think about what you’re doing and keep your eyes in mind as you work.

Hopefully you’ve found this guide useful, and you can have many further years of eye-safe adventures with cyanoacrylate!

72 thoughts on “Saving Your Vision From Super Glue In The Eyes

  1. Happened to a friend of mine, he was pushing a bottle of it (facing away from him into a tissue) to get a blockage out. It ricochet back into his eye. ER sorted it out, but he had a widened pupil for a couple of days, looked like David Bowie.

  2. This happened to me. I was building a small balsa free flight airplane and the tube clogged. I used a T-pin to clear it, and of course I was looking straight down the barrel of the tube when I pulled the pin out, and it squirted a droplet into my eye. CA glue sets instantly in the presence of moisture, which it did, and when I blinked, the hardened chunk was torn off along with a top layer of eyeball. . A trip to the ER confirmed that I was fine, but my eye was sore for a few days. “Eye” haven’t made that mistake since!

  3. It’s not uncommon that elderly mistake prescription bottles with a similar bottle of super glue in my country, as fas as I know they lost sight. I think every product designer should think in all possibilities of bad usage.

      1. I’d just had eye surgery so I couldn’t see that well. I was living in a messy shared flat where someone leaving superglue in the bathroom wasn’t that out of the ordinary. Plus – stupidity.

        1. I happen to keep my superglue in the bathroom intentionally — right next to the bandages so that I can patch a cut from a plane or a razor working in the shop. I don’t actually keep eye drops on hand, so that confusion is unlikely, but I could definitely see someone else running into that confusion. I might start buying the bright orange bottles of superglue just to be on the safe side….

      2. “How in the world can you mistake the two bottles. What, you dont look before you grab.”

        Logically speaking, if you are applying eye drops, you probably don’t have your glasses or contacts in/on, and therefore, you cant see very well.

        I suspect that it would be pretty easy if your work space is sufficiently small and disorganised, as to have the two in close proximity. The dispensers are remarkably similar in many cases.

    1. Why are eye drops and super glue containers next to each other in the first place ? That’s like placing rat poison right next to the mac & cheese (or in the case of an old Three Stooges episode, plaster of paris next to baking flour)

    1. Yes. And even for hacktivities that aren’t truly dangerous to your eyes they can save time and annoyance. The few seconds it takes to put on a pair of safety glasses can save you 15 minutes trying to blink/wash/wipe out a tiny speck of plastic, plus the irritated and bloodshot eye that you’ll have afterwards.

    1. If you wear contacts, you learn to wash your hands *really well* after cutting chillies. It can stay on your fingers for hours.
      Also fun: short-signtedly and half-asleep confusing your saline bottle with the identically shaped and branded contact lens cleaning fluid bottle (peroxide). Thankfully they’ve now switched to a different style and very red cap on the peroxide.

        1. Actually, dish soap is better for chili. Rubbing your hands in vegetable oil dissolves the capsaicin but also soaks it deeper into your skin, which results in the same effect as hot gel – you get throbbing hot fingers that last for hours. Dish soap takes the oils away and dries your skin, which also gets rid of the capsaicin with them.

          Or, you can combine both: vegetable oil first, then wash with dish soap.

    2. No reasonable amount of hand washing seems to remove chili oil from fingers. An eye rub hours later can still sting.

      Being a serious fan of Ghost Peppers, I’ve gotten powder or oil in my eyes more than a couple of times.

      The best remedy I’ve found is to irrigate my eye with heavy whipping cream via paper towel. It may sound odd, but fat (not water) is what tames an overly hot

      Ymmv, but it’s my go to.

        1. I worked in a salsa factory, and we had to measure out habanero powder. Gloves and glasses, sure, but still… even the next day, one microscopic particle on the skin burns. You know it is there, because you feel it, but it is still too small to see, even with a hand lens.

          And don’t drop the box, causing the powder to billow up in your face; one person did that, the gloves and glasses did not prevent a trip to urgent care. After that we also used a respirator. If it is only in your eyes, you can tough it out and just cry and suffer for a few days, but it is dangerous to inhale it.

          This is why at home, when it comes to habanero, I always go fresh. Just beware of the leftover juice on the cutting board…

  4. Had a fun experience with that… My mom used to glue her puzzles together and while moving one she unknowingly got some superglue on her hand or wrist and rubbed her eye, smearing glue into her eyelashes which quickly became stuck shut. 11 or 12 something year old me then got to play surgeon and cut her eyelashes apart with a seam ripper, as she was much too embarrassed to make a trip to the ER. I learned a new level of keeping my hands steady that day.

  5. hApPeNeD To mE OnCe. I WaS GrAbBiNg tHe gLuE, bOtToM SiDe uP, aNd lOoKeD DiReCtLy iNtO ThE NoZzLe wItH My eYeBaLsS, nO ClOg, AnD ThEn i sQuEzZeD As hArD As i cAn fOr nO ReAsOn, AnD GoT SuPeR GlUe iNtO My eYeS. wHo wOuLd hAvE ThOuGhT?

  6. Art Bell once glued his lips almost together getting the cap off with his teeth during a break. When he came back on after the break a hilarious event happened live to us radio listeners in the millions.

    1. several problems though:
      1) good ol’ superglue (ethyl cyanoacrylate) is an irritant. The non-irritant kind (n-Butyl cyanoacrylate) which is even approved for use on humans, is fairly expensive.
      2) polymerization (what the glue does to harden) relases a fair bit of heat. Lots of glue in direct contact with your skin and clothes = possible 1st and 2nd degree burns.
      3) oh god the eyes
      4) if you thought the eyes were bad, just wait what happens when it gets in your mouth and nose
      5) it’s quite flammable
      6) a means of self defense that may prevent you from escaping (because you glued yourself to something) is pretty dumb

      1. Which is why superglue is fastest to glue your fingers together, and a little disappointing at adhering to anything you’re actually trying to glue. Takes a minute or two to stick the pieces you’re trying to glue, but mere seconds to stick your thumb to the same piece.

  7. Got some in one eye 40+ years ago when I was working in electronics assembly snapping together plastic blocks after being layered with glue. Got rushed to the emergency room and treated but it ended up being nothing — no damage.

  8. CA glue heats up considerably when it hardens, which is why there’s a warning against putting it on stuff like paper or cloth – as it gets wicked into the fabric, the surface area exposed to air is greater and the glue sets faster, making it heat up more to the point that it will start to emit smoke and potentially start a fire. I once repaired a pair of headphones dropping CA glue around the edges where the cushion was torn off, and it did give off enough heat to emit wisps of smoke.

    That’s why, when you get it on your person, it can cause second or even third degree burns.

  9. One of my father’s favorite stories was about when Cyanoacrylate was first introduced as a brand new commercial glue product in the 50’s. It was incredibly expensive, but he got a free sample from a chemicals salesman because he was the chief engineer at his gov’t agency. As he told it, it was a long and amusing story and it ended with him gluing his secretary’s fingers together. Dad tried every solvent in the shop to no avail. His secretary wouldn’t talk to him for a month!

  10. My wife is a Veterinarian and she told some years ago that in some kind of injuries, when a really fast stiching (emergies probably) is in order (there are probably several more factors) they use a local brand of Cyanoacrylate (La Gotita) and some days laters the glue gets out of the body.
    Then some years after, I saw how a mother (that had vast experience as nurse in a hospital) used the same glue in the forehead of his own kid that got a bleeding scratch. Instantly the kid stoped bleeding and then some ice was applied to avoid inflammation, but later the kid was allright runing all over the place again. some days later I got to see the kid again and he hadn’t got even a small mark of the bruise. This mother told me the same, the glue will left the body in a couple of days. A hell of a hack if you ask me. (PLEASE CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE TRYING THIS)

    1. I’ve been using CA to close cuts for years, it’s wonderful especially for those shallow stinging ones like a papercut or something jabs under your fingernail. The pain is instantly give and you can use your digits as normal

      1. My doctor superglued my fingertip together after I accidentally touched a running bandsaw.

        One of the original purposes for CA glue was to close gunshot wounds during the Vietnam War.

        1. I second (or third, or whatever) this. I got the top of my ear cut while getting a haircut (blood everywhere!) and went to the ER and they glued it back together with medical-grade CA. They couldn’t have sewed anything so fine, and it worked perfectly.

          Since then I’ve used hardware-store grade CA many many times to knit up small cuts, and it’s awesome. Keeps them together for 3-4 days (like it does when you use it accidentally) and then just peels / sloughs off.

          Way better than a band-aid for a knife cut. (I’m not a medical doctor…)

    2. I slipped in the shower and got a wound on the forehead, about 1cm long and heavily bleeding. In the hospital they also glued it. But they use octyl-CA glue. This is better bio compatible – and much more expensive.

  11. My father glued both eyes shut while making improvised blowgun darts. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the time he shot paint in his eyes with an airbrush. This is why I wear safety glasses whenever im working with CA and parts that can shift, or have any tension on them.

  12. When out daughter was about 4 (she is now 33) she had gotten the super glue for her mom. We were all sitting at the table with friends. When the daughter came up to my wife she was crying my wife looked at our daughter and freaked, it looked like she had lost an eye. You could see no eye, the lids were shut and water was coming out of them. My wife quickly passed our daughter to me and I looked and it seemed horrible, looked like no eye in the socket. At closer inspection and gathering facts, I realized she had super glued her eye shut. We said goodnight to our guests and ran off to ER which they quickly took care of it.

    Bad feelings and fear at the time but no harm done. Now it is one of the many family stories. This particular daughter has given me so many great stories like taking out the “Caution construction zone” sign by running over it with her car. She came home with the right front panel of her car in the trunk.

  13. Cyanoacrylate is routinely used to seal acute corneal penetrating injuries in ophthalmology. (yes the butyl form but the hardware store variety also works in a pinch). Heat production IS an issue but the volumes are very small and this is usually not an issue in a controlled surgical setting. Most ER visits with glued eyelids resolve quite well, given time – though the sharp edges of the polymerized glue are very annoying to the patient. In most cases any greasy ophthalmic ointment (eg Polysporin) is used to keep all the surfaces lubricated until the glue releases 1-3 days later.

  14. I got a splash of it in an eye a few years ago. glued my eye shut. It took a while to slowly pull it open. The worst bit was what got under my eylid the abrasive effect was quiet unpleasant, took a trip to the doctor to have it cleaned out, thankfully no permenant damage.

  15. The worst thing that happened to me using super glue is that one time I used a hot solder iron on still uncured glue. That smoke will feel like sand in your eyes, the pain is instant and it will last. Never ever let super glue touch a hot solder iron.

  16. Happened to me, a small drop right on the eyeball….no panic (or i was stupid) and I rinsed the eye non stop with hot/warm water over the sink for about 5-10 minutes and the glue drop came off the eyeball…like plenty other stuff superglue doesnt like to like to stick to…seems the eyeball is another one…

  17. FYI contact lens users
    In the model building/tabletop gaming world is there a horror story that circles around every so often about a person who was building a large/complicated model using superglue, and somehow managed to superglue his contact lenses to his eyeballs, and had to spent several hours in the ER while they had to cut the contacts off his eyes…

  18. Ugh you put this gross-ass retch-inducing photo in the sidebar and that was bad enough, but now it’s blown up full size in all its horror and placed first in the carousel on the top of your homepage? Don’t. Just don’t.

    Hackaday currently looks like a pack of cigarettes in a foreign country. You know, the ones that plaster images of cancerous organs and rotting faces on tobacco products to convince people to quit.

    Gonna have to stay clear for a bit until you have some new content in that carousel, this is disgusting as hell. Also the message in the article is basically “see a doctor, don’t worry about it” which is worthless. I mean duh.

  19. My 2 year old recently found super glue that I didn’t even know we had when I had ran to the bathroom quick and managed to glue his eye shut it’s been 5 almost 6 days and still no change and we’ve done everything the doctors have told us to do … any non harmful suggestions would be amazing!!!

    1. Happened to me when I was 16, and succeeded in gluing my eyelid together + hole in cornea due to intense heat while the glue burnt/polymerized… As a result, the doctor cut the eyelid precisely just to open the eye again, then used a small pliers to catch the pieces of hardened glue that were struck in the cornea. That was a very unpleasant moment, but I was lucky and only ended up with a cornea ulcer (2 weeks in complete dark to recover) and no vision loss.

      So, this is probably too late for this comment, but if it happens, hurry up to a real doctor that’ll not expect things to self recover by themselves and that’s almost deaf because god, I was screaming like I didn’t know I could.

  20. Thank you for your post. It put my mind at ease when my son’s eye accident got glued together. He was having a head wound glued up by an Emergency Doctor and some glue slid down into his eye. We kept it wet to stop it from setting but unfortunately that did not work. It eventually came off with a combination of trimming his eyelashes, using a hot flannel compress and picking away at the glue. His eye was not damaged.

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