How do I treat foreign objects in the eye?

 Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine
Here’s how to administer first aid for a foreign object in the eye:
  • Flush eye: Use sterile eyewash or clean water. Gently flush from the inner area of the eye next to the nose to the outer area. As you flush, pull down lower lid and lift the upper lid. Ask victim to roll eyes around.
  • Get medical attention if the object isn't removed or irritation persists.
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Foreign substances are commonly found in the eye during a sporting event. Do not attempt to remove the object with the fingers. Rubbing the eye may cause more pain and damage to the eye. The athlete should keep their eye closed until pain reduces enough to determine whether the object is in the lower or upper lid. A sterile cotton swab can be used to remove the object from the lower lid while the lower lid is opened downward.

After removing the object, the eye needs to be rinsed with eyewash in an eyecup. If a cotton swab is not available to you, saline is a common solution to rinse the eye out. You should flush the eye out for about 15 seconds; have the athlete close the eye to determine if the object is out.

If the object seems to be stuck into the eye, then it should be covered and the athlete should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Objects in the eye can lead to scratches and cuts (abrasions and lacerations), as can rubbing the eye while a foreign body is inside the eyelids. Severe pain and excessive tears, sensitivity to light, and spasms of the eyelid are some signs and symptoms of an object in the eye. A doctor should be seen as soon as possible for further diagnosis and testing.

(This answer provided for NATA by the Georgia College & State University Athletic Training Education Program.)
Correct treatment for an eye injury immediately following an accident can prevent loss of sight.

If a foreign object gets into the eye:
  • Do not rub your eye. Lift the upper eyelid over the lower lid, allowing the lower lashes to brush the speck off the inside of the upper lid.
  • Blink a few times and let the eye move the particle out. If the speck remains, keep your eye closed and seek medical help.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.