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Eye Health: A Foreign Body in the Eye

Eye Health: A Foreign Body in the Eye

Few disagree with the discomfort, irritation, and, in some cases, severe pain and fear they feel when they get something stuck in their eye. From a dust particle to a metal shard, this type of injury takes many forms. Known in the medical community as a “foreign body” (in the eye)…and with our eyes as our portals to the world, well, we just don’t want stuff stuck in them! But what to do when such a thing happens? That’s the issue I am exploring here today. Of course, don’t take any of this as direct doctor’s advice. This is just a gathering of opinions from across the medical community. Every case of foreign body (or object) in the eye is unique and needs to be assessed and/or diagnosed and treated accordingly by a certified physician.

Now, with the legal disclaimer box checked, and a somewhat tough to look at picture (above) to illustrate just one scenario, here are a number of elements to consider when this bad situation happens to your or someone in your circle.

What Exactly is a Foreign Body in the Eye?

This question kind of answers itself. But here is the definition offered up by Healthline.com:

eye exam portland

These two elements define what a “foreign body in the eye” is in the medical community. Definition and Image Courtesy: Healthline.com

When a foreign object gets in your eye, it is most common for it to affect the cornea or conjunctiva. See the below diagram, noting these two areas:

eye exam portland

The human eye in diagram. The Cornea and Conjunctiva are highlighted here. Image Courtesy: www.bpac.org.nz

  • 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. As light enters the eye through the cornea, it also aids in focusing light on the retina at the back of the eye.
  • The conjunctiva is a thin mucous membrane that covers the sclerathe white of your eye. The conjunctiva runs to the edge of the cornea. It also covers the moist area under your eyelids.

 

How It Can Happen

Foreign objects of the micro scale enter our eyes all the time. From very tiny dust particles, to other things extremely small, we usually don’t even notice. However, when larger particles make their way to these sensitive areas, the situation quickly becomes top-of-mind and a variety of symptoms are immediately noticed. Abrasions and scratches to the cornea are the most common and are usually minor. Yet some types of foreign objects can cause infection, even damaging one’s vision. It is good to note that if a foreign object lands on the front part of the eye, it can’t get lost behind the eyeball (one of many concerns noted by patients seeking treatment for “something stuck in my eye”).

Here are the most common symptoms one may experience with a foreign body in the eye:

  • a feeling of pressure or discomfort
  • a sensation that something is in your eye
  • eye pain
  • extreme tearing
  • pain when you look at light
  • excessive blinking
  • redness or a bloodshot eye

 

eye exam portland

While somewhat disturbing to look at (and it gets MUCH worse), this a classic “foreign object in the eye” where there is an embedded object causing some damage and bleeding on the cornea. Image Courtesy: doctorrennie.wordpress.com

For those less faint of heart…here is another image of a much worse situation…where a foreign object actually penetrates into the eye. These types of injuries usually occur when there is some kind of explosion (sans safety glasses), or power tools are involved. Wearing safety glasses at all times when in situations where high speed projectiles could result is, well, a very good practice. That said, click below if you want to view this uglier example of exactly what can happen:
Image of eye penetration by foreign object

Now let’s move on to the do’s and don’ts.

I’ve Got a Foreign Body in My Eye: What do I do?

If you or someone you are caring for has a foreign body in an eye, fast diagnosis and treatment will help prevent infection and the potential for loss of vision. This is especially important in extreme cases (when the eye has been penetrated).

WARNING: Removing a foreign object yourself could cause serious eye damage. Get immediate emergency treatment if the foreign object:

  • Has sharp or rough edges
  • Is large enough to interfere with closing your eye
  • Contains chemicals
  • Was propelled into the eye at a high rate of speed
  • Is embedded in the eye
  • Is causing bleeding in the eye
  • 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:

  • Restrict eye movement.
  • Bandage the eye using a clean cloth or gauze.
  • If the object is too large to allow for a bandage, cover the eye with a paper cup.
  • Cover the uninjured eye. This will help prevent eye movement in the affected eye.

 

You should also seek emergency treatment if the following symptoms are present after any type of object is removed:

  • You still have a sensation of having something in your eye.
  • You have abnormal vision, tearing, or blinking.
  • Your cornea has a cloudy spot on it.
  • The overall condition of your eye worsens.


The above video, courtesy of Dr. Larry Mellick of Augusta University, shows the ER treatment most commonly applied in the case of a foreign object in the eye. Certainly cases of eye penetration (by a foreign body) are much more serious than this. Yet this can give you an idea of what to expect.

When Help Isn’t Available? Self Treatment

Getting medical treatment is always the best option when treating a foreign body in the eye; especially in the more extreme cases of penetration. That said, you may not have the option of getting to a doctor immediately, or you may be the “self treatment” type. Either way, there are some steps you can take to either help stabilize the situation before reaching the doctor, or to even self treat, if you are determined or hard pressed.

When you detect you (or someone in your care) has a foreign body in an eye, first take the following precautions:

  • Do not rub or put pressure on the eye.
  • Do not use any utensils or implements, such as tweezers or cotton swabs, on the surface of the eye.
  • Do not remove contact lenses unless there is sudden swelling or you have suffered a chemical injury.

 

Now, before starting any home care, take the following steps:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Look at the affected eye in an area with bright light.
  • To examine the eye and find the object, look up while pulling the lower lid down. Follow this by looking down while flipping up the inside of the upper lid.
  • 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:

  • Immerse the side of your face with the affected eye in a flat container of water. While the eye is under water, open and close the eye several times to flush out the object.
  • The same results can be accomplished using an eyecup purchased from a drugstore.
  • If the object is stuck, pull out the upper lid and stretch it over the lower lid to loosen the object.

 

To treat a foreign object located beneath the lower eyelid:

  • Pull out the lower eyelid or press down on the skin below the eyelid to see underneath it.
  • If the object is visible, try tapping it with a damp cotton swab.
  • For a persistent object, try to flush it out by flowing water on the eyelid as you hold it open.
  • You also can try using an eyecup to flush out the object.

 

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:

  • Use a wet cloth to remove any particles from the area surrounding the eye.
  • Immerse the side of your face with the affected eye in a flat container of water. While the eye is under water, open and close the eye several times to flush out the particles.
  • For younger children, pour a glass of warm water into the eye instead of immersing it. Hold the child face up. Keep the eyelid open while you pour water into the eye to flush out the particles. This technique works best if one person pours the water while another holds the child’s eyelids open.

 

In a Nutshell

Suffice to say getting a foreign body in one’s eye is not something to be casual about. Vision is critical to life function and worth protecting at almost all costs. Any scenario where an object is in one’s eye, and particularly situations where the eye has been penetrated, needs immediate medical attention. That said, there are some very minor situations where home care can alleviate the situation, or help to stabilize one’s condition to assist in preventing further injury and/or the risk of infection. Yet in most cases, getting immediate medical attention is highly recommended. Play it on the safe side. You just don’t want to mess around with your eyes.

I hope this article has been helpful and can serve as a quick resource should you find yourself, or someone you care for, suffering from this issue. Good luck out there. And be sure to wear safety glasses when involved in a situation where high-speed objects could make their way into your eyes!

All Care-related lists courtesy of Healthline.com
Header Image Courtesy: verywell.com
Additional research via the Mayoclinic.org