What is a foreign object in the eye?
A foreign object in the eye is something that enters the eye from outside the body. It can be anything that does not naturally belong there, from a particle of dust to a metal shard. When a foreign object enters the eye, it will most likely affect the cornea or the conjunctiva.
The cornea is a clear dome that covers the front surface of the eye. It serves as a protective covering for the front of the eye. Light enters the eye through the cornea. It also helps focus light on the retina at the back of the eye.
The conjunctiva is the thin mucous membrane that covers the sclera, or the white of the eye. The conjunctiva runs to the edge of the cornea. It also covers the moist area under the eyelids.
A foreign object that lands on the front part of the eye cannot get lost behind the eyeball, but they can cause scratches on the cornea. These injuries usually are minor. However, some types of foreign objects can cause infection or damage your vision.
How common is a foreign object in the eye?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of a foreign object in the eye?
The common symptoms of a foreign object in the eye are:
- A feeling of pressure or discomfort
- A sensation that something is in your eye
- Eye pain
- Extreme tearing
- Pain when you look at light
- Excessive blinking
- Redness or a bloodshot eye
Cases in which a foreign object penetrates the eye are rare. Typically objects that enter the eye are the result of an intense, high-speed impact like an explosion. Foreign objects that penetrate the eye are called intraocular objects. Additional symptoms of an intraocular object include discharge of fluid or blood from the eye.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- You can’t remove the object with simple irrigation
- The object is embedded in the eye
- The person with the object in the eye is experiencing abnormal vision
- Pain, redness or the sensation of an object in the eye persists after the object is removed
What causes a foreign object in the eye?
Many foreign objects enter the conjunctiva of the eye as a result of mishaps that occur during everyday activities. The most common types of foreign objects in the eye are:
- Dried mucus
- Contact lenses
- Metal particles
- Glass shards
Dirt and sand fragments typically enter the eye because of wind or falling debris. Sharp materials like metal or glass can get into the eye as a result of explosions or accidents with tools such as hammers, drills, or lawnmowers. Foreign objects that enter the eye at a high rate of speed pose the highest risk of injury.
What increases my risk for a foreign object in the eye?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is a foreign object in the eye diagnosed?
The first part of an eye examination is to evaluate the vision for acuity (how well one sees).
The next portion of the examination, usually only performed by an ophthalmologist or a doctor in the emergency department, is the slit lamp examination. While one sits in a chair with their chin on a support, the doctor shines a small slit of light into the eye and looks through a microscope. This helps the doctor to see the cornea, the iris, and the lens, and the fluid in the eye.
The doctor starts with a general examination of the visible portions of your eye. The eyelids, eyeball, and iris are examined.
During this part of the examination, the doctor looks to make sure that the pupil is symmetric and reacts properly to light, that there is no obvious injury to the eyeball, and that no visible foreign bodies are still in the eye.
The eye may be numbed with pain medicine, and a fluorescent dye may be applied to the eye. A blue light may be used to help look for scratches on the cornea or evidence of leaking aqueous fluid, which is the clear fluid that fills the front of the eyeball.
While the eye is numbed, a tonometer may be used to check the pressure in the eye.
The eyelid may be everted (turned inside out) with a cotton swab to get a better view of the underside of the eyelid.
Depending on the severity of injury to the eye, the final portion of the examination involves dilating (enlarging) the pupil with eyedrops. Then, the inside of the eye and the retina can be evaluated to ensure that there are no foreign bodies inside the eyeball itself and that there is no damage to the retina.
How is a foreign object in the eye treated?
For scratches on the cornea (called corneal abrasions), the usual treatment is an antibiotic ointment and/or antibiotic eyedrops and pain medicine. If the abrasion is large (greater than 50% of the corneal surface), then it may also be treated with a patch.
Any noted damage to the iris, the lens, or the retina requires immediate evaluation by an ophthalmologist and may or may not require surgery.
A ruptured eyeball requires surgery by an ophthalmologist.
If no other injury is noted, hyphema (blood in between the cornea and the iris) requires close follow-up care with an ophthalmologist.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage a foreign object in the eye?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with a foreign object in the eye:
If you suspect you have a foreign object in your eye, it’s important to get treatment promptly to avoid infection and the possibility of damaged vision. Take these precautions:
- Do not rub or put pressure on the eye.
- Do not use any utensils or implements, such as tweezers or cotton swabs, on the surface of the eye.
- Do not remove contact lenses unless there is sudden swelling or you have suffered a chemical injury.
If you suspect you have a foreign object in your eye, or you’re helping someone who has one, take the following steps before starting any home care:
- Wash your hands.
- Look at the affected eye in an area with bright light.
- To examine the eye and find the object, look up while pulling the lower lid down. Follow this by looking down while flipping up the inside of the upper lid.
The safest technique for removing a foreign object from your eye will differ according to the type of object you’re trying to remove and where it’s located in the eye.
The most common location for a foreign object is under the upper eyelid. To remove a foreign object in this position:
- Immerse the side of your face with the affected eye in a flat container of water. While the eye is under water, open and close the eye several times to flush out the object.
- The same results can be accomplished using an eyecup purchased from a drugstore.
- If the object is stuck, pull out the upper lid and stretch it over the lower lid to loosen the object.
To treat a foreign object located beneath the lower eyelid:
- Pull out the lower eyelid or press down on the skin below the eyelid to see underneath it.
- If the object is visible, try tapping it with a damp cotton swab.
- For a persistent object, try to flush it out by flowing water on the eyelid as you hold it open.
- You also can try using an eyecup to flush out the object.
If there are many tiny fragments from a substance, such as grains of sand in the eye, you will have to flush out the particles instead of removing each one individually. To do this:
- Use a wet cloth to remove any particles from the area surrounding the eye.
- Immerse the side of your face with the affected eye in a flat container of water. While the eye is under water, open and close the eye several times to flush out the particles.
- For younger children, pour a glass of warm water into the eye instead of immersing it. Hold the child face up. Keep the eyelid open while you pour water into the eye to flush out the particles. This technique works best if one person pours the water while another holds the child’s eyelids open.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: October 27, 2017 | Last Modified: December 6, 2019
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Foreign object in the eye: First aid. https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid/basics/art-20056645. Accessed October 27, 2017.
Foreign Body, Eye. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/foreign_body_eye/. Accessed October 27, 2017.