Various treatments and home remedies can help with getting a foreign object out of the eye. Getting something out of the eye can include irrigation or flushing, blinking, and more.

Foreign objects and debris in the eye usually affect the cornea or conjunctiva. The cornea is a transparent layer that protects the iris and pupil. The conjunctiva is the thin layer covering the inner part of the eyelid and the white part of the eye.

This article reviews how to get an object out of the eye, when to seek medical help, symptoms, causes, and more.

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In some cases, a person may be able to remove a small object, such as dust, sand, or an eyelash, from the eye. However, small objects in the eye can sometimes leave a small, superficial scratch.

A superficial scratch on the cornea can take 2 to 3 days to heal and often does not require medical treatment.

A person can first try to blink repeatedly to induce tears to help remove small debris, such as sand or eyelash.

If blinking does not help, a person can try the following:

  1. First, they should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and clean water and then pat them dry.
  2. A person can then fill a small, shallow container with water or saline solution. Once filled, they can immerse their eye in the liquid and blink several times to try to remove the object. Slightly pulling the upper eye lid away from the eye may help loosen the object.
  3. Alternatively, a person could run artificial tears or saline over the eye while it is open to flush the debris away.
  4. Once the object is no longer in the eye, a person should use a clean towel to dry the skin around the eye.

A person should use caution when removing even small debris from their eye. Some safety steps a person can take include:

  • not rubbing the eyes
  • taking out any contact lenses before trying to remove the debris
  • avoiding the use of sharp objects, such as tweezers
  • seeking medical attention if the object is large or does not come out

Before treatment, a doctor will examine the eye. This examination may include:

  • Anesthesia. This may be used to numb the surface of the eye.
  • Eye vitals check. This may include examining visual acuity and a pupillary exam, which examines shape, accommodation, reactivity, and equality, and checks for defects.
  • Slit lamp examination. This exam uses a colored dye to help highlight and reveal debris or cuts on the surface of the eye.
  • Imaging studies. If the doctor suspects a deeper impact, they may recommend a CT scan.

One of the more common treatment methods involves irrigation (flushing) and a moist cotton swab. If the doctor is unable to remove the object initially using this method or has confidence with a needle, they may use a needle to remove the debris.

A person will likely need to take antibiotic eye drops to treat corneal scrapes and protect against eye infections. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, may help reduce any pain.

Eye injuries are relatively common

In the United States, about 3.15 per 1,000 people seek treatment for eye injuries in emergency rooms each year. Nearly one-third of all serious cases result in at least partial, permanent blindness.

The workplace accounts for about 20,000 cases of eye injury each year in the United States. The incidents range from mild abrasions to severe, blindness-causing injuries. Workplace accidents cost an estimated $300 million each year for medical care, lost work, and workman’s compensation claims.

In a 2017 study, researchers reported the following worldwide stats on eye injury:

  • trauma accounts for bilateral low vision in 2.3 million people and unilateral vision loss in 19 million people
  • eye injuries account for 7% of all bodily injuries and about 10 to 15% of all eye diseases

They also noted that eye trauma accounted for the majority of noncongenital unilateral blindness in people under the age of 20 in the United States. Additionally, about 66% of all eye trauma occurs in children under the age of 16 with the most cases occurring in males between the ages of 9 and 11.

Some common foreign objects that end up in the eye can include:

  • eyelashes
  • dry mucus
  • dirt and sand
  • dust
  • lost contact lenses
  • metal or glass particles
  • makeup

At work, common causes of eye injury can include:

  • flying objects, such as wood, metal, glass, cement, or other small debris
  • chemicals such as cleaning products
  • penetrating objects such as nails, wood, staples, or other sharp objects

Any foreign object that enters the eye at an accelerated speed poses a high risk for eye injury.

Having something stuck in the eye may be a mild nuisance or can be very painful. Anyone who experiences severe eye pain or vision changes should see a doctor immediately.

If an object enters the eye at high speed or is large enough to be visible, a person should seek emergency help as soon as possible.

A foreign object in the eye can cause the following symptoms:

  • pressure or discomfort
  • burning or irritation
  • a watery, red eye
  • itching with blinking
  • blurred vision in the affected eye
  • light sensitivity

An object may also cause a subconjunctival hemorrhage, which is bleeding in the white part of the eye.

This condition generally does not require medical treatment and resolves on its own within a few days to a few weeks, but it may be best to see a doctor so that they can rule out any other eye injury.

A person can often remove a small object on their own without need for medical intervention. Larger objects or ones that become stuck may require help from a doctor. Some reasons to see a doctor may include:

  • moderate or severe pain follows object removal
  • vision changes occur
  • the eye is bleeding or a watery discharge is leaking out
  • glass or a chemical is in the eye
  • the object was sharp or rough
  • the object entered the eye at high speed

Accidents happen, so it is not always possible to avoid getting foreign objects in the eye during everyday activities.

Certain jobs and activities can put the eyes at risk and allow debris to fly into them. In such cases, using protective eye wear can help prevent injuries. On the work site, this can include goggles, safety glasses, face shields, and specially designed helmet.

Protective eye gear may be helpful when:

  • working in dusty or windy areas
  • drilling
  • playing some sports, such as squash
  • working with dangerous and toxic chemicals
  • using a lawnmower or hedge trimmers

The outlook following the removal of a foreign object from the eye is generally good. Even if the object caused abrasions, the eye should usually heal within a few days.

Anything sharp, such as metal or glass pieces, or objects that entered the eye at high speed may cause more serious injuries or lead to vision problems. A person should see their doctor for treatment in these cases.