A foreign body is an object in the eye that is not meant to be there, such as sand, dirt, dust, cosmetics, or other small items.

This can be a relatively serious eye condition, especially if something like metal or rust gets into the cornea. Strong winds, working with tools, and improper use of contact lenses are some of the most common ways these problems occur. (Learn More)

Signs of a foreign body in the eye include a feeling that something is in the eye, tearing, eye pain, photophobia, and excessive blinking. Several eye conditions have similar symptoms, so it is important to speak to a doctor if the cause of your problems are not immediately obvious. (Learn More)

If you believe you have a foreign body in your eye, caution is important. Do not rub your eye, as this can scrape the body across the eye and cause damage.

It is generally a good idea to see a doctor for a foreign body in the eye. There are ways to solve milder cases at home, but you must be careful if you are going that route. If you ever are unsure how serious your case is, see a doctor. (Learn More)

For mild cases of a foreign body in the eye, wash it out with water. Be careful to follow the recommendations for doing so carefully, and do not rub the eye at any point.

If this does not work or if your case is more severe, see a doctor as soon as possible. They can carefully extract any foreign bodies and prescribe medicine and further treatment as needed. (Learn More)

eyes shut tight

Foreign Bodies in the Eye

A foreign body, in reference to eye health, is when an object gets into the eye. The most common foreign bodies that get into people’s eyes are sand, dirt, dust, contact lenses, and cosmetics.

In regard to the cornea (one of the most important parts of the eye for sight), flecks of rust or metal objects most commonly lodge into it. Foreign bodies in the cornea, especially sharp and very hard ones like metal, represent some of the biggest dangers to the eye.

Common ways a foreign body gets into the eye include strong winds blowing debris, working with tools (especially those that grind metal or produce sawdust), and improper use of contact lenses. Any activity where your eye can unintentionally come into contact with a foreign body could potentially cause issues.

Symptoms of a Foreign Body in the Eye

pain in eye

Signs that you may have a foreign body in your eye include:

  • The feeling of a foreign object in the eye.
  • Eye pain.
  • Tearing.
  • Pain when looking at light (photophobia).
  • Excessive blinking.

Several of these symptoms are indicative of multiple eye conditions beyond just having a foreign body in the eye. If you believe you may have a foreign body in the eye, it is generally a good idea to see a doctor to make sure it does not cause any damage and to safely get it removed.

Caution Is Important

You can remove foreign bodies from your eye at home in some cases. Be aware, however, that improperly dealing with a foreign body can cause serious eye damage. The best practice is to see an eye doctor.

At-home remedies are only suitable for mild cases of foreign bodies in the eye, such as tiny pieces of dust. Whatever the case, never rub an eye you believe might have a foreign body in it. While rubbing your eyes is generally an unhealthy habit, rubbing them while a potentially hard or lodged object is in the eye can sometimes cause serious eye issues.

If you’re ever unsure about how to approach the feeling of a foreign body in your eye, call a doctor. It is better to receive more help than you actually need than to assume you can solve the problem at home and then damage your eye.

Treatment

doctors appointment

For mild cases of a foreign body in the eye, you may be able to solve the problem at home. If you feel something in your eye, you can attempt to wash your eyes with water.

Again, be careful not to rub your eye, and do not pour water directly on top of the affected area. Blink a few times to see if you still feel the object.

It is generally a good idea to still see a doctor, so they can check for any damage or pieces of the foreign body you may have missed. If the above does not help, or the object seems large or especially painful, contact a doctor immediately.

A doctor may:

  • Remove the foreign object with a cotton applicator, or wash it out with saline solution.
  • Apply an antibiotic to the eye.

In the event of a corneal abrasion, or if the doctor otherwise thinks specialized care is necessary, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist.

Corneal abrasions, as the name implies, are when the cornea gets scratched. This is one of the biggest worries when a foreign body gets into the eye, and the primary reason you should not rub an affected eye. Once the object is safely removed, an ophthalmologist will guide you through the healing process.

Corneal abrasions can heal on their own, although in some cases, they may scar and interfere with sight. Your doctor will likely suggest an antibiotic ointment.

In the past, eye patches were frequently prescribed to keep the eye safe. In recent years, they have fallen out of favor as evidence suggests they may do more harm than good.

References

Foreign Bodies in the Eye. Stanford Children’s Health.

How to Remove a Foreign Body From the Eye. (June 2018) Merck Manual.

Corneal Abrasions and Corneal Foreign Bodies. (March 2018). Merck Manual.