Canada

10 people in Kingston, Ont., sent to hospital with eye injuries. 2 patients blame a foam party

Ten people in the southeastern Ontario city were treated for chemical eye exposure Monday and needed to have their eyes flushed after what two patients describe as a foam party gone wrong.

Hospital confirms it treated 10 patients for 'chemical eye exposure'

A man with blonde hair, a black T-shirt and a silver chain looks into the camera with red, irritated eyes.
Bryan Kirkham is seen on Tuesday, two days after attending a foam party at Stages Nightclub in Kingston, Ont. Kirkham says he temporarily lost his vision after the foam got into his eyes. (CBC)

Ten people in Kingston, Ont., were treated for chemical eye exposure and needed to have their eyes flushed after what two patients described as a foam party gone wrong.

Kingston Health Sciences Centre's Emergency Department treated 10 patients late Sunday and early Monday for "chemical eye exposure," a spokesperson confirmed with CBC News. The hospital would not confirm the patients had attended a foam party, due to patient confidentiality.

But two of those patients told CBC News it all started when they went to a party at Stages Nightclub — a bar on Kingston's downtown strip popular with students. At these types of parties, foam is typically sprayed onto a dance floor throughout the night and several feet of foam can accumulate.

Bryan Kirkham went to the party with friends between 11 and 11:30 p.m. on Sunday. He said he noticed the foam in the mosh pit felt "different" than previous parties at the club, and that he started having trouble seeing by 12:30 a.m.

He tried to rinse his eyes in the bathroom sink at the club, but said the pain was significantly worse by the time he got home around 1:30 a.m.

"My skin's burning, my eyes are on fire and the pain was just unbelievable," Kirkham said in an interview.

WATCH | 'Unbelievable' pain: 

'The pain was just unbelievable,' says man who attended foam party

1 month ago
Duration 0:59
Bryan Kirkham, who attended a foam party at Stages Nightclub in Kingston, Ont., says after he left the club, he couldn't open his eyes and they 'started to burn.'

"Once we got into the hospital, honestly I'd give [the pain] about a nine out of 10. It was one of the worst pains I felt."

Kirkham, who wore black sunglasses during an interview over Zoom on Tuesday, says he's still experiencing vision problems.

Another woman who arrived at the club with her friends around 11:10 p.m. said her eyes started burning within the hour. CBC News is not naming the woman, a student at Queen's University, because she is concerned that being associated with drinking in clubs could affect her career prospects.

"It was kind of like someone was slashing your eyes almost, with a knife. It was just really painful and not a feeling that would go away even when your eyes were closed," she said.

CBC News reached out to Stages Nightclub for comment, but has yet to hear back.

In an email response from Stages sent to the Queen's student, viewed by CBC News, the club said it was frustrated to hear what happened to its patrons.

"We … want nothing more than to make this right," the email said.

Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington Public Health said it's investigating an increase in patients experiencing eye irritation, "unrelated to the solar eclipse." 

'A perfect way to end the semester'

The event at Stages was advertised on its social media accounts.

"Come party on the dance floor and under the foam with us, it's a night you won't want to miss and a perfect way to end the semester," the club wrote in a post on Facebook and Instagram. 

The student said she and her friends left the club shortly after their eyes started burning. Her vision was blurry, but at first she assumed it was just a typical reaction to the foam getting in her eyes. But she said her eyes kept burning, even after a long shower, rinsing them herself with a bowl of water and using eye drops.

People crowd together on a dark dancefloor at a nightclub. White foam and a bar are visible.
The foam party at Stages Nightclub is seen on Sunday. (Supplied by Bryan Kirkham)

Her roommate went to the hospital, she said, but she tried to sleep it off. The next day, the student's eyes were puffy and oozing puss, so she went to the hospital too.

"I had to get prescription antibiotics. I had to go again this morning because they wanted to make sure there weren't any scratches on my cornea," she said.

"I'm still experiencing pain and discomfort. I have to wear sunglasses all the time and am unable to do work or study for my exams."

Foam can cause irritation: CDC

In 2013, when foam parties were becoming popular, the American Optometric Association warned that they can cause eye irritation. This was in reaction to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about eye injuries sustained at a foam party in Naples, Fla.

The CDC said 56 people who attended the 2012 party at a Naples club suffered eye injuries.

"This investigation highlights the range and potential seriousness of eye injuries that can result from exposure to foam," the CDC report said. 

In 2001, approximately 60 club-goers in Calgary were treated for eye injuries after a foam party.

Jared Cole, the owner of Lucky Inflatables and Foam Party Kingston, says eye injuries from foam parties are rare as long as you use the right hypo-allergenic and organic foam. But the "good stuff" is expensive, he said — about $30 per gallon, which will make enough foam to last about 20 minutes. 

"We don't see injuries with high-quality foam," he said, adding that he did not rent any equipment to Stages for its foam party.

In its email to the injured student, Stages said it used hypo-allergenic foam, followed all the dilution instructions and cleaned the equipment. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalie Stechyson

Senior writer and editor

Natalie Stechyson is a senior writer and editor at CBC News. She's worked in newsrooms across the country, including the Globe and Mail, Postmedia News, Calgary Herald and Brunswick News. Before joining CBC News, she was the Parents editor at HuffPost Canada, where she won a silver Canadian Online Publishing Award.

With files from Sam Konnert and Dan Taekema