A recent news report about a woman who accidentally glued one of her eyes shut when she mistook Super Glue (cyanoacrylate adhesive) for her eye drops is a reminder that the potential for this mix-up is real. The Associated Press reported that a woman who had cataract surgery a year ago was reaching for what she thought was one of her half-dozen eye medications but picked up a nearby super glue container in error. A burning sensation immediately indicated that something was seriously wrong, so she went to the hospital where doctors worked on getting her eye open.
This is certainly not the first time this sort of incident has occurred. In fact, ISMP previously wrote about a nearly identical incident that happened to a New Jersey woman. She too instilled super glue (cyanoacrylate) into one of her eyes and glued them together. She was treated at a hospital where the glue was carefully removed and, fortunately, she suffered no permanent damage. A search of the medical literature confirms that this has happened numerous times.
There are many cyanoacrylate adhesive products and they are known by many different brand names. At one time, all of these glues did come in containers that were nearly identical to eye drop containers, but problems happened so often that changes were made to reduce potential confusion. Today, many types of eye glue are sold in a tube shape container, however, some can still be found in containers similar to eye drops. Still, patients with poor eyesight might be at risk of potentially mixing up these products, even with the newer container designs. For example, Super Glue looks somewhat like a tube of eye ointment.
The bond formed by these glues is extremely strong. In fact anyone who’s used cyanoacrylates and gotten glue on themselves has probably run into a situation where their fingers got stuck together or to whatever was being glued, and it became difficult to pull things apart. This is such a common problem that the manufacturer of Super Glue, the Super Glue Corporation, has a page on their website devoted to removal of the glue from body parts. As for fingers sticking together or sticking to whatever you’re gluing, that’s an easy to fix. A small amount of nail polish remover applied with a Q-tip will do the trick. Be sure the nail polish remover contains acetone, a mortal enemy of cyanoacrylate glues. You will not want to use acetone near your eyes though, since that could be damaging to vision.
In the event that eyelids are stuck together or bonded to the eyeball, Super Glue Corporation recommends that you wash thoroughly with warm water and apply a gauze patch. The eye will open without further action within 1-4 days. The good news is that the manufacturer says that there has never been a documented case of adhesive in the eye causing permanent damage.
Another product known to have been mixed up with eye drops is nail glue. These products are also packaged similar in appearance to eye drops and are often stored in the bathroom medicine cabinet. Nail glue is a common product used by women to fix false nails. This product carries a warning that it bonds skin within seconds.
For users of super glue or nail glue, it is probably not a bad idea to review removal instructions now so you know what to do and where to go in the event that someone does confuse these products with something else. In addition, for those using eye medications, keep in mind the potential for this type of confusion and do not purchase in any sort of container that looks anything at all like an eye medication. Be sure to store glue products far away from any area where medications are kept. Super glue should only be stored with household tools or other repair items. Nail glue should be stored in a designated area away from the kitchen or bathroom.