I recently read a Facebook post where someone reported a serious eye injury after using Dawn Dish Washing Liquid as a mask defog agent. Now one might think that using dish washing soap as a defog agent is not the wisest choice but I assure you it is not as bad a choice as one might think when you compare it to commercially available products that we assume are safe. Some time ago I was with a group of friends diving at Peacock Springs (now named Wes Skyles) State Park when this unexpected incident happened to me.
I was parked in the lot adjacent to Orange Grove Sink. The plan was to swim the Grand Traverse (Orange Grove to Peacock, a 4000 foot plus swim). After prepping gear on the tailgate of my truck I put Sea Drops in my mask. Some how the cap on the squeeze bottle was knocked loose or removed and improperly replaced. Somewhat annoyed with myself I spread the excess over the mask face plate an propped it over my forehead for the walk down to the water. My intention was to thoroughly rinse the excess defog off at the water and proceed with my dive.
The Road To Hell Is Often Paved With Good Intentions.
As I walked to the waters edge the mask slipped from my forehead and somehow the Sea Drops covered face plate smacked my open eye and coated part of its surface with the Sea Drops gel. Annoyed at my own stupidity I continued my walk to the water and immediately immersed my head with my eyes open and violently shook it sideways, back and forth and up and down in an attempt to wash the Sea Drops out of my eyes. I then addressed the mask and washed the excess defog from it. Everything felt fine and thinking nothing of it I began my dive.
About 800 – 900 feet into the cave my eye began to “itch”. Thinking nothing of it I continued on to Challenge sink. By that time my eye was getting progressively more distressed. I surfaced in the sinkhole, removed my mask and tried to wash out my eye. I also asked my dive buddies to look for a foreign object in the unlikely event I had somehow picked up something in the water when “rinsing” my eye earlier. Nothing was found and washing my eye brought no relief.
“I gotta get out of here NOW!”….
was the only thing I remember saying to my dive buddies and I began to exit like a bull in a china shop, swimming most of the exit at maximum speed with my eyes closed. It was beginning to feel like my eye was on fire and closing my eye was the only thing that brought any relief.
By the time I reached the steps the pain was quite severe and my only thoughts were thank God Peacock is shallow and I had no decompression obligation and to get to an emergency room as quickly as possible. I tossed my gear in the back of my pickup and left it at Dive Outpost. The owner, Cathy Lesh very graciously rendered first aid, trying to irrigate the eye while giving us directions to the nearest ER.
After Being Driven At Warp Speed…
I arrived at the ER about 30 minutes later. When the registration process began the only words out of my mouth were “I don’t have time for this. I have a chemical burn in my eye. If you can’t care for me immediately give me the name of another ER or a walk in clinic and I’ll go there.”
They immediately dropped everything and rushed me into the ER where a nurse irrigated my eye and began a cursory examination. At some point a doctor came and examined my eye, spoke with the nurse and left. The nurse advised that there were 3 layers of skin or membrane covering the eye and the Sea Drops had burned through 2 of them, hence the extreme pain. She also advised that the ph of the chemical was unrealistically high and was surprised that a product designed for use near the eyes would have such a high ph. She also said the ph of my eye was very high and that I could not leave until it was normal. Three or four hours and six bags of normal saline irrigation (or whatever they were using) later and I was free to go but still in pain. The Doctor gave me some Oxycontin to take for the pain and it didn’t even touch it. Just for the record, I don’t even take aspirin so this stuff should have knocked me out and it had nil effect.
I knew I was not fit to drive back to south Florida so the next day I made my way to an eye doctor and planned on spending an extra day to recuperate. The doctor examined me and said there would be some discomfort but no permanent damage and proceeded to cover the eye with a contact lens. The pain left instantly. I guess the exposure to the air exacerbated the pain and sealing it off with a contact lens gave relief. I was then advised to wait a few days and make an appointment with a local doctor who would examine me again and remove the lens.
I Arrived Home Looking Like A Pirate…
with a patched eye but with no pain. I scheduled an appointment with a local MD who reaffirmed there was no permanent damage to the eye and removed the contact lens. When I commented about the extreme pain she stated that the eye was one of the two most pain sensitive areas of the body, the other being an unmentionable.
I filed a claim with my Dive Accident insurer and all of the medical expenses were covered completely but I was dismayed by the reply I got when I suggested a caution be published in their quarterly dive magazine. It seemed that there was a greater concern for advertising dollars than there was for diver safety.
So, the take away from all of this is to never assume (as I did) that just because we think a product meets a certain expectation that it actually does. While Sea Drops is a good product for its intended purpose, shame on me for assuming that a cursory rinse would mitigate any potential injury from direct contact with ones eye. After all, it is manufactured for use near the eyes.
I hope this serves to make people aware of the potential dangers of ANY chemical in the eye, no matter how benign we think it might be.