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Objects in 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
The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.
- If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
- If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
- If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
- Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
- Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
- Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
- Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
- Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
- Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
- Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.
There are a couple of ways to safely remove an object from the eye.
Do not try to remove:
- Any object made of metal.
- Any object that has punctured the eye.
To remove a nonmetal object that is on the surface of the eye or inside the eyelid:
- Wash your hands before you touch the eye.
- Try to gently flush out the object with water.
- If the object is on the white part 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.
- Do not use tweezers, toothpicks, or other hard items to remove an object.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
- Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
- Long-term alcohol and drug problems.
- Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety of conditions.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
- Other medicines used to treat autoimmune disease.
- Medicines taken after organ transplant.
- Not having a spleen.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:
- Diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and congenital heart disease.
- Steroid medicines, which are used to treat a variety of conditions.
- Medicines taken after organ transplant.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
- Not having a spleen.
Pain in adults and older children
- Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
- Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days. Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's there.
- Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain, but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
- Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or grimace.
- Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds when you try to comfort him or her.
- Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds when you try to comfort him or her.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
- Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
- You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
- You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
- You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
- Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
- If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
- If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.
Make an Appointment
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
- Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
- If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
- If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
Call 911 Now
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
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.
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.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
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.
If you wear contacts, be sure to remove your contacts when your eye problem starts.
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. Laser toys or pointers can cause eye damage if the laser is pointed at the eye.
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?
Current as of: February 26, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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