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A foreign object in the eye is something that enters the eye from outside the body. It can be anything that does not naturally belong there, from a particle of dust to a metal shard. When a foreign object enters the eye, it will most likely affect the cornea or the conjunctiva.
The cornea is a clear dome that covers the front surface of the eye. It serves as a protective covering for the front of the eye. Light enters the eye through the cornea. It also helps focus light on the retina at the back of the eye.
The conjunctiva is the thin mucous membrane that covers the sclera, or the white of the eye. The conjunctiva runs to the edge of the cornea. It also covers the moist area under the eyelids.
A foreign object that lands on the front part of the eye cannot get lost behind the eyeball, but they can cause scratches on the cornea. These injuries usually are minor. However, some types of foreign objects can cause infection or damage your vision.
If you have a foreign object in your eye, you probably will experience immediate symptoms. You may experience:
Cases in which a foreign object penetrates the eye are rare. Typically objects that enter the eye are the result of an intense, high-speed impact like an explosion. Foreign objects that penetrate the eye are called intraocular objects. Additional symptoms of an intraocular object include discharge of fluid or blood from the eye.
Many foreign objects enter the conjunctiva of the eye as a result of mishaps that occur during everyday activities. The most common types of foreign objects in the eye are:
Dirt and sand fragments typically enter the eye because of wind or falling debris. Sharp materials like metal or glass can get into the eye as a result of explosions or accidents with tools such as hammers, drills, or lawnmowers. Foreign objects that enter the eye at a high rate of speed pose the highest risk of injury.
If you have a foreign object in your eye, prompt diagnosis and treatment will help prevent infection and potential loss of vision. This is especially important in extreme or intraocular cases.
Removing a foreign object yourself could cause serious eye damage. Get immediate emergency treatment if the foreign object:
If you have a foreign object embedded in your eye, or you’re helping someone with this problem, it’s important to get medical help immediately. To avoid further injury to the eye:
You should also seek emergency treatment if the following symptoms are present after any type of object is removed:
If you suspect you have a foreign object in your eye, it’s important to get treatment promptly to avoid infection and the possibility of damaged vision. Take these precautions:
If you suspect you have a foreign object in your eye, or you’re helping someone who has one, take the following steps before starting any home care:
The safest technique for removing a foreign object from your eye will differ according to the type of object you’re trying to remove and where it’s located in the eye.
The most common location for a foreign object is under the upper eyelid. To remove a foreign object in this position:
To treat a foreign object located beneath the lower eyelid:
If there are many tiny fragments from a substance, such as grains of sand in the eye, you will have to flush out the particles instead of removing each one individually. To do this:
Contact your physician if the foreign object in your eye has conditions that warrant emergency treatment or if:
If you get treatment from your physician, you may undergo an examination that includes the following steps:
If you succeeded in removing a foreign object from your eye, your eye should begin to look and feel better in about one to two hours. During this time, any significant pain, redness, or tearing should subside. An irritating sensation or minor discomfort may remain for a day or two.
The surface cells of the eye are restored quickly. Corneal abrasions caused by a foreign object usually heal in one to three days and without infection. However, infections are more likely if the foreign object was dirt particles, a twig, or any other object containing soil. Call your doctor if your symptoms aren’t improving.
Intraocular foreign objects can result in endophthalmitis. This is an infection of the inside of the eye. If an intraocular foreign object damages the cornea or lens of the eye, your vision could be damaged or lost.
Foreign objects that may land in your eye accidently during everyday activities can be difficult to anticipate or avoid.
Certain work or leisure activities are more likely to emit airborne objects that could land in your eye. You can prevent getting a foreign object in your eye by wearing protective eyewear or safety glasses when you’re doing activities that could involve airborne objects.
To prevent getting a foreign object in your eye, always wear protective eyewear when:
Written by: Anna Giorgi
Medically reviewed on: Apr 26, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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