A 30-year-old woman had a seizure. She had never had a seizure before. Understandably upset, her husband called 911 and the patient was brought to our emergency department.
By the time she arrived, she was still a little confused as is common after a seizure. I examined her and ordered tests to see if there was an identifiable cause of the seizure. When all of the tests came back normal, I went back to tell the patient and her husband the results.
I had noticed that, while we were talking, the patient kept her eyes closed and was tearful. I assumed this was from being emotional about this potentially life-changing event.
When I asked them if they had any questions, they wanted to know why her eyes hurt so badly. This explained why she had her tearful eyes closed but really puzzled me. I knew nothing about having a seizure that would cause one to have painful eyes.
When I looked at them more closely, they were very red and swollen. Staining with fluorescein dye showed both of her corneas (the clear front part of the eye) were damaged but just on the bottom halves.
I had no idea how to explain this so I asked more questions. As it turned out, when the patient had started to seize, the husband tried to “bring her out of it.” To do so, he threw rubbing alcohol in her face. She was unconscious and her eyes were half open so the irritating alcohol went right into her eyes causing damage to the corneas. When she recovered from the seizure, she was aware that her eyes were burned and painful. She went home with treatment for “chemical keratitis” with anticipation that it would be all healed up in a couple of days.
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