Updated on  December 28, 2022
8 min read

Feels Like Something is in My Eye

12 sources cited
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Feeling like something is in your eye, also called a foreign body sensation, can lead to discomfort, blurry vision, and irritation. 

Dust, dirt, or a loose eyelash in your eye are common causes of foreign body sensations. However, you may also feel like something is in your eye when there isn’t anything there. Dry eyes or inflammation can cause this sensation. 

Most causes of foreign body sensations are not harmful and typically go away. However, more severe causes require immediate medical attention to prevent vision loss. 

This article addresses possible reasons it feels like something is in your eye. 

10 Potential Reasons Why it Feels Like Something is in Your Eye

1. Stye or Chalazion

Styes and chalazia are lumps that develop on the edge of the eyelids. They can create the sensation of feeling like something is in the eye.

A stye is a small, red, painful lump that typically grows on the base of an eyelash or under the eyelid. A chalazion is a swollen bump that develops on the eyelid and is usually not painful. 

Never squeeze or pop a chalazion or stye, as this can cause an eyelid infection. Refrain from wearing contact lenses or eye makeup if you have a stye or chalazion.

Causes

  • A bacterial infection or an infected eyelash can cause styes
  • Clogged oil glands cause chalazia 

Other Symptoms

Additional symptoms of styes and chalazia include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Small pus spot at the center of the lump
  • Feeling like something is in your eye
  • Crustiness
  • Tearing

Treatment

Treatment for styes and chalazia include:

  • Warm compress held on the eye for 10 to 15 minutes twice daily
  • Antibiotics for an infected stye
  • Steroid shot for swollen chalazia

2. Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition caused by the low production of tears. Wearing contact lenses and being over 50 puts you at a higher risk of developing dry eyes. 

Dry eyes can be uncomfortable and make you feel like you have something in your eye. 

Causes

Dry eye syndrome is caused by the following:

  • Glands don’t make enough tears to keep eyes lubricated
  • Tears dry up too fast
  • Low-quality tears don’t keep your eyes moist

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms of dry eyes include:

  • Stinging or burning feeling
  • Blurry vision 
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Red eyes

Treatment

Treatment for dry eyes includes:

  • Artificial tears (eyedrops)
  • Medicated eye drops
  • Lifestyle changes (avoiding smoke, drinking plenty of water, and using a humidifier) 
  • Tear duct plugs

3. Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

Conjunctivitis is inflammation and irritation of the eye's conjunctiva (the clear tissue covering the eye's white part). Bacteria, allergies, or a viral infection can all lead to pink eye. 

It develops in one or both eyes. Bacterial and viral pink eyes are very contagious. 

Causes

The leading causes of conjunctivitis include:

  • Viral infection (most common)
  • Bacterial infection (may have pus or discharge)
  • Allergies (triggered by something in the environment)

Other Symptoms

In addition to red eyes, other symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

  • Feeling like something is in your eye
  • Burning
  • Itchiness
  • Pain
  • Pus or discharge
  • Swelling and puffy eyelids
  • Blurred vision 

Treatment

Treatment for conjunctivitis depends on what type of pink eye you have. It typically clears up in 1 to 2 weeks.

Treatment options include:

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis is treated with antibiotic eye drops
  • Viral conjunctivitis needs to clear up on its own
  • Allergic conjunctivitis is treated with antihistamine eye drops and avoiding triggers
  • Warm compress
  • Wash your eyes with water

4. Corneal injury

A foreign body sensation in the eye can indicate an injury to the cornea (a clear dome-shaped window on the front of the eye), such as a corneal abrasion or laceration. 

A corneal abrasion is a scratch or scrape on the cornea's surface. A corneal laceration is a cut on the cornea typically caused by a sharp object. It can cause vision loss and is a medical emergency. 

Causes

Common causes of a corneal injury include:

  • Fingernails
  • Makeup brushes
  • Tree branches 
  • Rubbing your eye
  • Dry eyes
  • Something sharp flying at the eye

Other Symptoms

Symptoms of a corneal injury include:

  • Feeling like something is in the eye
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Bleeding in the eye

Treatment

If you suspect a corneal injury, place something over the eye to protect it and seek medical attention.

Treatment options for a corneal injury include:

  • Wearing a patch over the injured eye
  • Eye drops or ointment
  • Antibiotic eye drops to prevent an eye infection
  • Special contact lenses to reduce pain and promote healing
  • Surgery to close the cut from a laceration 
  • Removal of foreign object

5. Herpes keratitis

Herpes keratitis is a viral infection of the eye caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1. After the initial infection, it can lie dormant in the body and reactivate later. A symptom of herpes keratitis is feeling like something is in your eye. 

Causes 

Eye herpes is caused by:

  • Herpes simplex virus (type 1)

Triggers that can lead to the reactivation of HSV include:

  • Stress
  • Injury to the body
  • Fever
  • Menstruation
  • Certain medications 

Other Symptoms

In addition to feeling like something is in your eye, other symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Blurred vision
  • Rash
  • Discharge in the eye
  • Tearing
  • Sensitivity to light

Treatment

Treatment of eye herpes includes:

  • Topical or oral antiviral medication
  • Corneal transplant (for severe cases)
  • Not wearing contact lenses
  • Avoiding steroid eye drops, as they can make it worse

6. Corneal ulcer 

A corneal ulcer is an open sore on the cornea (clear dome-shaped window on the front of the eye) that an eye infection can cause. 

See your eye doctor immediately if you have a corneal ulcer, as it can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated.

Causes

Corneal ulcers can develop from:

  • An eye infection
  • Severe dry eye
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • A burn or injury on the cornea

Other Symptoms

In addition to feeling like something is in your eye, symptoms of corneal ulcers can include the following:

  • Redness
  • Severe pain and soreness
  • Pus or discharge
  • Blurred vision
  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • White spot on your cornea

Treatment

Corneal ulcers are treated with:

  • Medicated eye drops
  • Antifungal or antiviral tablets
  • Injection of medication near the eye
  • Anti-inflammatory eye drops

7. Pinguecula and Pterygium 

A pinguecula is a yellow raised growth on the eye's conjunctiva (the clear tissue covering the eye's white part). It contains deposits of protein, fat, or calcium. Pinguecula is usually located on the side of the eye closest to the nose.  

A pterygium, also called surfer’s eye, is a growth of tissue on the conjunctiva that may start as a pinguecula. It can grow large enough to affect your vision.

Causes

Common causes of pinguecula and pterygium include:

  • Exposure to UV light from the sun
  • Dust 
  • Wind

Other Symptoms

Pinguecula and pterygium can leave you feeling like something is in your eye. Additional symptoms include:

  • Yellow spots or bumps on the white of your eye
  • Swelling and Redness 
  • Dry eyes
  • Burning and itching
  • Blurry vision 

Treatment

Both pinguecula and pterygium typically don’t require treatment. If the condition worsens or affects vision, eye doctors may recommend:

  • Eye drops to lubricate your eyes
  • Steroid eye drops
  • Surgery for severe cases

8. Blepharitis 

Blepharitis is the inflammation of the eyelid and eyelash lash line caused by a clogged oil gland. 

Causes

Blepharitis is a common eye condition that can be caused by:

  • Excessive bacteria at the base of the eyelids 
  • Clogged oil glands in the eye
  • Microscopic mites living in the eyelash hair follicles (Demodex)

Other Symptoms

In addition to causing a foreign body sensation, blepharitis symptoms can include the following:

  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Burning
  • Soreness
  • Crust around the base of eyelashes

Treatment

There is no cure for blepharitis, but ways to minimize symptoms include:

  • A warm compress over your eyes
  • Eyelid scrub (wiping your eyelid with baby shampoo diluted in warm water)
  • Antibiotic ointment 
  • Artificial tears (eye drops)
  • Consuming Omega-3s (fish oil)

9. Fungal Keratitis

Fungal keratitis is a fungal corneal infection that can develop from an eye infection or contact lens use. It can lead to vision loss and blindness if not treated.

Causes

Fungal keratitis is caused by:

  • Getting hit in the eye with plant material (such as a tree branch)
  • Having a low immune system and being exposed to a fungus
  • Wearing unclean contact lenses

Other Symptoms

Fungal keratitis can lead to the sensation that something is in your eye. Additional symptoms include:

  • Reduced vision 
  • Sudden eye pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Excessive tearing
  • Eye discharge

Treatment

Treating fungal keratitis includes:

  • Antifungal eye drops
  • Oral medication 
  • Corneal transplantation for severe cases

10. Foreign object

Sometimes, the cause of feeling like there is something in the eye can be from a foreign object getting stuck in your eye

Causes

Common foreign objects that can enter the eye include:

  • Dust
  • Dirt
  • Sand
  • Misplaced contact lenses
  • Metal or rust
  • Makeup 

Other Symptoms

Symptoms of a foreign object in the eye can include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Tearing
  • Pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Inability to open the eye

Treatment

The most effective way to remove a foreign object in the eye includes:

  • Flushing out the eye with water
  • Using artificial tears or saline solution for lubrication 
  • Dabbing your eye with a clean washcloth or cotton swab
  • Excessive blinking

When to See an Eye Doctor

A foreign body sensation in your eye will likely clear up on its own. 

If symptoms worsen or do not resolve, seek medical care from a licensed eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam.

Summary

Feeling like something is in your eye happens occasionally. Typically, flushing the eye with water and applying a warm compress can help ease the feeling. 

However, if symptoms persist, it may be a sign of a more serious eye condition, such as an eye infection, corneal injury, pink eye, or a stye. Seek medication attention from an eye doctor if you experience changes to your vision and worsening symptoms.

Updated on  December 28, 2022
12 sources cited
Updated on  December 28, 2022
  1. Turbert, D. “Feeling of something in eye.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  2. American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Why does it feel like something is in my eye?” 2022. 
  3. Boyd, K. “What are chalazia and styes?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022. 
  4. National Eye Institute. “Dry eye,” 2022.
  5. Boyd. K. “Conjunctivitis: What is pink eye?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  6. Boyd. K. “Corneal abrasion and erosion.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  7. Porter, D. “What is a corneal laceration?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022. 
  8. Porter, D. “What is herpes keratitis?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  9. Turbert, D. “What is a corneal ulcer?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  10. Boyd, K. “What is a pinguecula and a pterygium?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  11. Boyd, K. “What is blepharitis?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  12. Turbert, D. “What is fungal keratitis?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
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