When a foreign object enters the eye, it can be an uncomfortable experience.
Often, the eye is able to flush out eyelashes and environmental debris through blinking and tear production. Depending on the specific foreign object, at-home or professional intervention may be required.
What Is a Foreign Object in the Eye?
A foreign object or foreign body in the eye is anything that gets in the eye that shouldn’t be there. Some of the most common corneal foreign bodies include the following:
- Pieces of glass
- Parts of plants
- Metal fragments
- Wood fragments
- Lost contact lenses
What to Do Immediately if You Have a Foreign Object in Your Eye
It’s important to proceed with caution if a foreign object gets stuck in your eye. If the foreign object is embedded in the eye, do not try to remove the object yourself. Do not rub the eye. Seek emergency medical attention.
Depending on the type of object and the severity of the situation, you might be able to clean out your eye yourself. Some foreign objects can be flushed out of the eye by applying clean, warm water in a gentle stream.
You can utilize a small eyecup or use a clean drinking glass, which should be positioned with the glass rim resting at the base of the eye socket. The rim of the glass should be on the bone of the eye socket.
If irrigation does not work then or the object is embedded in the eye, it’s time to see a vision care specialist or seek emergency treatment.
If you experience abnormal vision, pain, redness, or any symptoms that last more than 24 hours once a foreign object is removed, see a doctor immediately.
If you are able to successfully flush out the foreign object and symptoms do not persist beyond 24 hours, you are more than likely in the clear. If you are unable to remove the object and/or you have symptoms that last longer than a day, you need to visit the doctor’s office or an emergency facility.
Potential outcomes when a foreign object gets stuck in the eye include removal of the object and follow-up care, which might include clinical evaluation, oral analgesics, and infection prevention measures. If symptoms persist, it is necessary to see an ophthalmologist.
Ignoring a foreign object in the eye can sometimes result in permanent eye damage and vision complications. See an eye doctor to have the situation diagnosed and effectively treated.
Symptoms of a Foreign Body in the Eye
Symptoms of corneal abrasions and foreign objects in the eye include the following:
- The distinct feeling that something is in the eye
- A gritty sensation in the eye
- Redness (from dilated blood vessels on the eye’s surface)
- Swelling of the eye or eyelid
- Blurry vision
In addition, light can often cause eye muscles to constrict and cause painful pupil spasms when there is a foreign body in the eye.
When to See a Doctor or Seek Emergency Care
If you have a foreign object in your eye and are unable to remove it, see a doctor. If you remove the object and your vision is blurry, it’s also time to see a doctor or visit an emergency room. Likewise, seek medical care if you are in pain or experience significant swelling.
Foreign objects in any part of the eye need to be handled immediately, whether at home or by a medical professional. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential in order to avoid complications. If left untreated, a foreign object in the eye can cause additional damage that may end up leading to partial or permanent vision loss.
Home Remedies for Minor Eye Issues
If you have a minor eye issue that you feel can be treated successfully at home, you can try to flush a foreign object out of your eye with warm, clean water. The water should be lukewarm. You can use an eyecup or small glass (as described above), a gentle stream of water from a facet, or lubricating eye drops.
If you remove the object and your eyes are slightly irritated, place a damp, cool compress over your eyes to reduce inflammation. Avoid eye makeup until your eyes have fully recovered.
Recovery After a Foreign Object Is Removed From the Eye
Recovery time with any eye injury will vary depending on the circumstances.
If a foreign object in the eye causes minor superficial corneal scratches, these will generally heal without intervention in a couple of days. It may be beneficial to wear an eye patch over the injured eye until full recovery.
The surface cells of the eye heal quickly, usually healing fully within one to three days if there is no infection.
It is estimated that 3.15 per 1,000 people in the population experience eye injuries that are treated every year in the United States. Eye injuries and foreign objects in the eye are fairly common, so in most cases, they aren’t cause for major alarm. Swift treatment will ensure optimal recovery and best protect your vision.
How to Protect Your Eyes
In many cases, foreign objects enter the eye due to a lack of security measures and safety.
If you are performing any activity or sport where small objects could get in your eye, wear safety glasses or goggles. You should also wear safety glasses when working in areas that are dusty, windy, or with any other hazardous conditions.
Good safety glasses will have close-fitting side shields that protect your eyes. Standard glasses do not offer sufficient protection.
Foreign Object in the Eye FAQs
How do you get a foreign object out of your eye?
A foreign object can often be removed from the eye by flushing the eye with water. If a foreign object is not removed by flushing with water, seek medical attention.
If the object is embedded in the eye, do not attempt to remove it. Seek emergency care.
How long can a foreign object stay in your eye?
Most commonly, a foreign body becomes trapped in the eye under the upper eyelid. With proper care, most corneal abrasions (even larger abrasions) will end up healing within a day or two. In less common cases, foreign objects can result in recurrent corneal erosion, which can often occur years after the injury in question.
What happens if you can’t get something out of your eye?
If you cannot remove a foreign object from your eye, see a doctor immediately. They will assess the situation and safely remove the object to ensure no further damage to the eye.
Corneal Foreign Body. (April 2022). StatPearls.
Corneal Foreign Bodies. (March 2022). Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Corneal Abrasions and Corneal Foreign Bodies. (May 2022). Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy.
Eye – Foreign Object In. (December 2021). MedlinePlus.
The United States Eye Injury Registry: Past and Future Directions. (December 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Intraocular Foreign Bodies: Clinical Characteristics and Prognostic Factors Influencing Visual Outcome and Globe Survival in 373 Eyes. (February 2019). Journal of Ophthalmology.
Epidemiology, Clinical Characteristics and Complications in Ocular Foreign Body Injuries. (April 2014). Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.
Last Updated August 9, 2022
Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.