What Is It?
Eyelashes prevent most particles or objects from entering the eye, and tears usually are able to rinse out particles that do get in the eye. Occasionally, a solid object or projectile can adhere to the eye or embed itself below the surface of the eye.
Foreign bodies in the eye can be small specks of dirt or eyelashes, or larger objects such as stones, nails or glass. The eye is damaged easily. The most common type of eye injury is a corneal abrasion — a scratch in the transparent layer that lies over your pupil (the center of your eye) and iris (the colored part). If the foreign body sticks to the undersurface of the eyelid, the scratch occurs when the object rubs against the cornea as you blink, and the scratch will be in a vertical line.
Symptoms can include itching, irritation or redness of the eye. Eye pain, light sensitivity and blurry vision are symptoms that suggest that a corneal abrasion may have occurred.
If you visit your doctor, he or she will shine a light into your eye to look for the object and may turn your eyelid up with the aid of a cotton swab. Your doctor will examine the margins of your eye as you look in different directions. Sometimes eye drops containing a local anesthetic agent are used to make this examination more comfortable.
Your doctor should check your vision quickly using an eye chart. If your doctor suspects that you may have a corneal abrasion, he or she can examine your eye after applying a small amount of “fluorescein” dye to the surface. Your doctor may apply the dye using a paper strip. When the strip touches your eye, a film of fluorescein will mix with your tears and float easily across the surface of your eye. Fluorescein collects in areas that are injured and glows when viewed under blue light.
Some foreign objects can be removed easily and do not cause any damage to the eye. Others are more difficult to remove and can injure the eye.
With proper treatment, symptoms of a mild corneal abrasion almost always improve or disappear completely within 24 to 48 hours. For more severe abrasions, symptoms often persist longer.
Use protective eyewear at work if appropriate, such as during construction work and when playing sports. At work, protective eyewear can reduce the risk of a corneal abrasion by up to 90 percent because these abrasions often are caused when a foreign object gets in the eye. If you play a sport, use goggles to protect your eyes from sand, dirt and other objects. If you require glasses to see clearly, you can have goggles made with prescription lenses.
If you wear contact lenses, wash your hands thoroughly before you handle the lenses, and keep your lenses clean.
Never rub your eye to try to get the object out because this can create a corneal abrasion or deeper injury.
If the object is large and cannot be removed easily or if it is embedded in the eye, cover the eye with gauze and see a doctor immediately.
If you wear contact lenses, wash your hands and remove the lenses. It is possible that a small rip in the lens is causing the irritation, rather than a foreign object.
If the object is small, such as an eyelash or speck of dirt, you may be able to see it by opening the eye as wide as possible. Have someone look at your eye or, if you are by yourself, look in a mirror. Hold down your lower lid and look up, then lift your upper lid and look down. If you can see the object, you can remove it with the edge of a facial tissue or a moistened cotton swab.
For small objects you also can try rinsing your eye with clean water. Sometimes your lashes will lift the object out if you pull your upper eyelid over your lower one. If neither of these methods removes the object, try getting someone to help. Lie on your side and hold your eye open with your fingers. Have your friend rinse the eye with an eyedropper or small cup filled with warm water or sterile saline solution.
If you cannot remove the object, bandage your eye loosely and see a doctor. Your treatment at the doctor’s office depends on what the object is, where it is and whether it has damaged your eye. If you are diagnosed with a corneal abrasion, you may receive antibiotics (eye drops or ointment) to prevent infection. Your doctor does not prescribe anesthetic-containing eye drops, although he or she may use them during your examination. Although these eye drops make your eye feel better, they also prevent you from feeling pain that may signal a more serious problem.
When To Call A Professional
A puncture wound in the eye is a medical emergency. If you have a foreign object that may be embedded beneath the eye surface, see a physician immediately.
The eye is easily damaged, so you should see a doctor if:
- You think you have removed the object but still experience pain, irritation or blurred vision
- None of the methods in the Treatment section removes the object
The prognosis depends on what type of object is in the eye and how it got there. Glass shards, other sharp objects and objects that entered the eye at high speed are more likely to cause damage. Penetrating injury to the eye may result in blindness.
Diseases and Conditions Center
All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.