How to Remove a Foreign Object From Your Eye

Eye problem

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When something relatively minor like an eyelash or bit of dust is stuck in your eye, it can feel much bigger than it is. Make that foreign object something like a grain of sand or sawdust and the discomfort multiplies. The eye is an incredibly sensitive organ, so you'll want to quickly remove any foreign object that finds its way in. But you also need to do so safely.

Blink a few times to see if the culprit will come out on its own. Irritation will cause your eye to water, which may help flush the object. If blinking doesn't do the trick, follow these tips.

Steps for Removing Debris From Your Eye

These steps are effective for relatively harmless particles causing discomfort:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Don't rub: If you wear contacts, gently remove them. Although you will be tempted, do not rub your eye. This may cause more irritation or the foreign body to become more deeply embedded. (For chemicals in the eye, skip step 3.)
  3. Examine your eye: Look into a mirror and gently pull down on the lower eyelid. Look up to examine the lower eye region. Repeat with the upper eyelid, looking down to examine the upper region. (If possible, have a friend help with this step, as it's difficult to examine your own eyes.) Try not to touch your cornea as you work.
  4. Flush the eye: Squirt some sterile saline or eye wash* (available at drugstores) into a cup. Place its lower rim on the bone below your eye, then tip your head back and pour the solution directly in. You can also dispense the fluid directly into your eye from the bottle.

*Sterile eye washes are best because they are guaranteed to be germ-free. But, if you don't have one handy, use plain water. You can follow the instructions on flushing the eye above, or fill a cup to the rim, lower your eye into the surface of the water, and blink several times.) A water fountain also makes a good eye wash because it can run a steady stream into your eye, dislodging the foreign body.

When to See a Doctor

These steps will resolve most cases of something in the eye, but there are times when medical attention is necessary.

Seek an immediate evaluation if you experience:

  • Severe pain
  • Changes in vision
  • Bleeding from the eye
  • Pus from the eye

Go to the emergency room if a foreign object is clearly embedded in the eye or your eye has been exposed to chemicals.

Eye doctors use specialized instruments to remove lodged foreign objects from the eyes safely; it's best not to attempt doing so on your own.

Keep your eye gently closed on the way. Excessive blinking could cause more irritation and discomfort. It can also help to cover both eyes (with cotton, for example). This prevents unnecessary eye movement, which could cause an object to move and cause harm.

If your case isn't an emergency, but you've tried the above and irritation persists, see a doctor. You may be dealing with something other than a foreign object in the eye, such as a scratched cornea (corneal abrasion), which can feel similar.

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