How do I treat foreign objects in the eye?

Dr. David R. Demartini, MD
Ophthalmologist (Eye Specialist)

There are many different types of foreign subsatance that can injure an eye. Most commonly they are very small, on the surface and are hard to see by the patient or a family member but can be easily felt by the patient. These foreign bodies can be better seen by the eye doctor who has magnifying instruments and medicines to identify and remove them. Most superifcial foreign bodies are visualized with the magnifying instruments, the eye surface is anesthetized, and the offending body is removed with delicate instruments like a sterile cotton swab or forceps. Occasionally an iron foreign body will leach rust into the cornea, even after only a few hours, and this rust ring will have to be removed also. Specialized burr polishers are occasionally used to remove the rust rings.

Rarely a foreign body will pass through the wall of the eye and become lodged inside the eye. This is called an intraocular foreign body. These are usually remove in surgery with the eye or the patient anesthetized. This type of foreign body is very dangerous to the sight of the injured eye as it can lead to major compications such as infection, cataract, hemorrhage or retinal detachment and ultimately the loss of vision in the injured eye.

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.)

Dr. Gary S. Hirshfield, MD
Ophthalmologist (Eye Specialist)

I would suggest that you look closely at your eyelashes and eyelid margins for a misdirected lash and pull it, if can. You can also grasp the upper lid by the lashes and gently pull it over the lower eyelid. If there is a foreign body under the upper lid, the lashes of the lower lid can sometimes dislodge it. If these maneuvers and over-the-counter drops and eyewashes do not result in relief then an ophthalmologic evaluation is mandatory.

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.