A new classification of ocular surface burns
- Division of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, B floor, Eye, Ear Nose and Throat Centre, University Hospital, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK
- Harminder S Dua
Ocular burns constitute true ocular emergencies and both thermal and chemical burns represent potentially blinding ocular injuries. Thermal burns result from accidents associated with firework explosions, steam, boiling water, or molten metal (commonly aluminium). Chemical burns may be caused by either alkaline or acidic agents. Common alkaline agents include ammonium hydroxide used in fertiliser production, sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) used for cleaning drains and pipes, and calcium hydroxide found in lime plaster and cement. Alkaline agents are particularly damaging as they have both hydrophilic and lipophilic properties, which allow them to rapidly penetrate cell membranes and enter the anterior chamber. Alkali damage results from interaction of the hydroxyl ions causing saponification of cell membranes and cell death along with disruption of the extracellular matrix. Common acidic agents causing injury include sulphuric acid found in car batteries, sulphurous acid found in some bleaches, and hydrochloric acid used in swimming pools. Acids tend to cause less damage than alkalis as many corneal proteins bind acid and act as a chemical buffer. In addition, coagulated tissue acts as a barrier to further penetration of acid. Acid binds to collagen and causes fibril shrinkage.
Historically, it has been recognised that the extent of tissue damage is a prognostic indicator of recovery following ocular surface injury. Recovery of ocular surface burns depends upon the causative agent and the extent of damage to corneal, limbal, and conjunctival tissues at the time of injury. Damage to intraocular structures influences the final visual outcome. Ballen1 first suggested a classification which was later modified by Roper-Hall to provide prognostic guidelines based on the corneal appearance and the extent of limbal ischaemia.2 This classification has become the commonly used benchmark since its introduction in 1965 (Table1).