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Objects in the Eye

Objects in the Eye

Topic Overview

Picture of the anatomy of the eye It's not uncommon for a speck of dirt or a small object, such as an eyelash or makeup, to get in your eye. Usually your natural tears will wash the object out. Objects may scratch the surface of the eye (cornea) or may become stuck on the eye. If the cornea is scratched, it can be hard to tell when you have gotten the object out, because a scratched cornea may feel painful and as though something is still in the eye. Most corneal scratches are minor and heal on their own in 1 or 2 days.

See a picture of the eye .

Small objects traveling at high speed or sharp objects traveling at any speed can cause serious injury to many parts of the eyeball. Injury may cause bleeding, a change in the size or shape of the pupil, a film over the eye lens, or damage to the inside of the eyeball. These objects may become embedded deep in the eye and may require medical treatment.

Objects in the eye can be prevented by using protective eyewear. Wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields when working with power tools or chemicals or doing any activity that might cause an object or substance to get into your eyes. Some professions, such as health care and construction, may require workers to use protective eyewear to reduce the risk of foreign objects or substances or body fluids getting in the eyes.

For information about other types of eye injuries, such as blows to the eye, see the topic Eye Injuries.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

Check Your Symptoms

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Home Treatment

First aid for objects in the eye

  • Don't rub your eye, because this could scratch the outer surface ( cornea ) of the eye. You may have to keep small children from rubbing their eyes.
  • Wash your hands before touching your eye.
  • If you wear contact lenses, take the contacts out before trying to remove the object or flush your eye.
  • If an object is over the dark center (pupil) of the eye or over the colored part (iris) of the eye, you may try to gently flush it out with water. If the object does not come out with flushing, put on dark glasses, and call your doctor. Do not put any pressure on the eye.
  • If the object is on the white part (sclera) of the eye or inside the lower lid, wet a cotton swab or the tip of a twisted piece of tissue and touch the end to the object. The object should cling to the swab or tissue. Some minor irritation is common after you have removed the object in this way.
  • Gently flush the eye with cool water. A clean eyedropper may help. Many times the object will be under the upper eyelid and can be removed by lifting the upper lid away and flushing gently.
  • Do not try to remove a piece of metal, an object that has punctured the eye, or an object stuck on the eye after flushing with water.
  • Never use tweezers, toothpicks, or other hard items to remove any object. Using these items could cause eye damage.

Eye injury in a child

Applying first aid measures for an eye injury in a child may be difficult depending on the child's age, size, and ability to cooperate. Having another adult help you treat the child is helpful. Stay calm and talk in a soothing voice. Use slow, gentle movements to help the child remain calm and cooperative. A struggling child may need to be held strongly so that first aid can be started and the seriousness of the eye injury assessed.

Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:

Talk to your child’s doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Decreased, double, or blurred vision doesn't clear with blinking.
  • Pain increases or continues.
  • Blood develops over the colored part (iris) of the eye.
  • Sensitivity to light ( photophobia ) develops.
  • Signs of infection develop.
  • Symptoms become more severe or more frequent.

Prevention

The following tips may help prevent eye injuries.

  • Wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields when you work with power tools or chemicals or do any activity that might cause an object or substance to get into your eyes. Some professions, such as health care and construction, may require workers to use protective eyewear to reduce the risk of foreign objects or substances or body fluids getting in the eyes.
  • If you are welding or are near someone else who is welding, wear a mask or goggles designed for welding.
  • Wear protective eyewear during sports such as baseball, hockey, racquetball, or paintball that involve the risk of a blow to the eye. Fishhook injuries are another common cause of eye injuries. Protective eyewear can prevent sports-related eye injuries more than 90% of the time. An eye examination may help determine what type of protective eyewear is needed.

Eye injuries are common in children, and many can be prevented. Most eye injuries happen in older children. They occur more often in boys than in girls. Toys—from crayons to toy guns—are a major source of injury, so check all toys for sharp or pointed parts.

Teach children about eye safety:

  • Be a good role model—always wear eye protection.
  • Get protective eyewear for your children, and help them use it properly.
  • Teach children that toys that fly should not be pointed at another person.
  • Teach children how to properly carry sharp or pointed objects.
  • Teach children that any kind of missile, projectile, or BB gun is not a toy.
  • Use safety measures near fires and explosives, such as campfires and fireworks.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

If you have an object in the eye that affects your vision, have someone else drive you to your doctor. If you are wearing contact lenses, remove them, and take your glasses with you.

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Do you have an object in your eye? What is the object? When did it get into your eye? Did it fall into your eye, or did it fly into your eye at high speed?
  • Do you wear glasses or contacts? Did you remove your contact lens? Has the injury affected your vision (as corrected with glasses or contacts)?
  • What kind of vision changes are you having (not related to removing your eyeglasses or contact lenses)?
  • What home treatment have you tried? Did it help?
  • What prescription and nonprescription medicines have you used? Did they help?
  • Do you have any health risks?

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised December 23, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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