Farmers are risking their eyesight on a daily basis by unsafe handling of lime, a leading eye specialist says.

Consultant ophthalmic surgeon and clinical senior lecturer at University Hospital Waterford Gareth Higgins has seen as many as five cases a week of farmers whose eyesight has been damaged by exposure to lime in recent months.

In some cases, the damage is irreparable and can lead to total blindness. The worst cases require a corneal transplant to replace the damaged part of the eye and restore eyesight.

While household detergents also cause issues, Higgins describes “an epidemic” of farmers presenting. “With lime used in cubicles, calf and lambing pens and spread on land, it’s a daily presence on farms.”


Farmers should use proper protective clothing when handling lime. That includes goggles, mouth and nose mask, gloves and long sleeves.

“It’s not just your eyes that need protection, but also the lining of the nose, the inside of the lips and your skin, all of which can be damaged by direct contact with a strong alkali like lime,” said Higgins.

“Wash hands immediately after contact with lime.”

In addition, an irrigation station is essential in every farmyard. An alkali will continue to burn the eye until it is washed out.

Every tractor should have, at the very least, a 2l bottle of water to flush the eye if exposed to any acid or alkali.

Higgins also said farmers are “staggeringly unaware” of the need for protection from UV sunlight.

“The mantra used in Australia, ‘slip, slop, slap’, is equally true in Ireland - slip on skin covering, slop sunblock on exposed skin and slap on a sunhat,” he said.