A foreign object in the eye can be a very painful condition. Foreign objects are harmless and easy to extract from the eye in most cases.
Foreign objects and debris in the eye usually affect the cornea or conjunctiva, which is the transparent layer that protects the iris and pupil. The conjunctiva is the thin layer covering the inner part of the eyelid and the white part of the eye.
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The most common foreign objects that end up in the eye include:
- dirt and sand
- dry mucus
- lost contact lenses
- metal or glass particles
The wind could cause sand, dirt, and dust to enter the eye, while metal or glass in the eye usually occurs during an accident. Any foreign object that speedily enters the eye could pose a high risk for eye injury.
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Having something stuck in the eye may be a mild irritant or can be very painful. Anyone who experiences severe eye pain or vision changes should see a doctor immediately. A foreign object in the eye can cause the following symptoms:
- burning or irritation
- a watery, red eye
- pressure or discomfort
- itching with blinking
- blurred vision in the affected eye
- light sensitivity
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An object may also cause a subconjunctival hemorrhage (bleeding in the white part of the eye). This condition generally does not require medical treatment and resolves on its own within few weeks. However, it is advisable to see a doctor so as to rule out eye injury.
How to get an object out of the eye
A person can easily remove debris from the eye in most cases. But, it is possible to scratch a cornea while attempting to extract the object.
A scratched cornea can take several days to heal and may even require treatment. Therefore, it is important to be careful and ask for help if necessary.
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At first, people should try repeatedly blinking to get the debris out. If blinking does not help, they can try following these instructions:
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and clean water. Pat them dry to avoid spreading bacteria that could cause an eye infection.
- Use a mirror to try to locate the object. The best way to do this is by looking up and down, then left and right.
- Immerse the affected eye in a shallow container of sterile saline solution. Water can also be used if saline is not available.
- Blink several times while the eye is in the water to flush out the foreign object. If the object remains stuck, gently pull the upper lid away from the eyeball to release it.
- Alternatively, running artificial tears, saline, or tap water over the eye while it is open may also help flush out debris.
- Once the object is out, use a clean cotton swab to wipe and dry the skin around the eye gently.
Take care when removing eye debris by:
- avoid rubbing the eyes
- taking out any contact lenses before trying to remove the debris
- avoid the use of sharp objects, such as tweezers
- seeking medical attention if the object is large
When to see a doctor
It is a good idea to see an eye doctor if:
- Severe pain follows after removing object from the eye
- vision changes occur
- the object was sharp or rough
- the eye is bleeding or a watery discharge is leaking out
- glass or a chemical is in the eye
- the object entered the eye at high speed
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A doctor will examine the eye before treatment. This examination will include:
- anesthesia to numb the surface of the eye
- eye drops to reveal debris or cuts on the surface of the eye
- a magnifier to locate any foreign objects
- imaging studies to investigate how far into the eye large objects are lodging
A doctor will remove any debris by flushing it out with sterile saline or using a cotton swab. If the doctor is not able to remove the object, they may need to use specialized instruments or a needle.
A person may need to take antibiotic eye drops to treat corneal scrapes and protect against eye infections. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can ease any pain.
Accidents happen, so it is not always possible to avoid getting foreign objects in the eye during everyday activities.
Certain jobs and activities can put the eyes at risk and allow debris to fly into them. In such cases, using protective eyewear can help prevent injuries.
It is best to wear protective eye gear when:
- working in dusty or windy areas
- using a lawn mower or hedge trimmers
- playing some sports, such as squash
- working with dangerous and toxic chemicals