One of the most uncomfortable sensations is caused by having something stuck in your eye. Even something as small as an eyelash can cause irritation, redness, and tearing.
Foreign bodies in the eye are common, accounting for 35% of all eye injuries.1 It’s usually a little more than a nuisance. However, it can be painful, and improper care can cause damage.
This article explains what to do if you get something in your eye, including foreign bodies, debris, and chemicals. It covers self-care measures and when to seek medical help or emergency treatment.
How to Get a Foreign Object Out of Your Eye
If you get a foreign body in your eye, the first thing to do is to avoid rubbing it while nature runs its course. Most people’s eyes water in response to foreign objects irritating them. Sometimes this is enough to flush out foreign bodies.
If not, gently flush it with clean, warm water or a sterile saline solution. You should do this for several minutes.
How to Remove Debris Stuck Under Your Upper Eyelid
If the debris in your eye isn’t visible, but you can feel it irritating it, there’s a chance it’s slipped under your upper eyelid.
To remove it, you must gently pull your upper lid down and release it. The object might come out as your upper lid slides back into place.
If not, hold your eye open and pull the upper lid outward as you flush it with water or saline solution.
How to Remove Debris Stuck Under Your Lower Eyelid
If you get something stuck under your lower eyelid, you’ll need to press on the skin as you pull your eyelid out. Ensure you can see the pink on the underside of your lower lid.
If you see the object on the white of your eye, gently touch it with a wet cotton swab, being careful not to touch your eyeball. If this doesn’t work, gently rinse it with a gentle stream of water as you hold your eyelid open.
How to Remove Chemicals or Irritants From Your Eyes
If your eyes are exposed to chemicals or irritants, you’ll need to flush your eyes with water immediately. Rinse your eyes with clean lukewarm water for at least 15 minutes.
If you wear contacts and get chemicals in your eyes, remove the contact lenses before rinsing.
After flushing your eyes, read the packaging from the chemical to determine if emergency care is required. When in doubt, call your local poison control center. If you go to the emergency room, bring the chemical package with you so they’ll know what it is.
Chemicals and Eye Health
Household cleaners or industrial chemicals can hurt your eyes. It’s important to wear eye protection any time you’re working with chemicals.
Many people have eyewash stations at work if they’re working around chemicals. If you don’t have an eyewash station, consider getting eye cups from the drugstore.
What Happens if You Get Something Stuck in Your Eye?
In many cases, your eye will water from the irritation caused by the foreign body. This usually washes away whatever it is.
Unless you have a problem with tears or lubrication, your eyes are designed to wash away foreign matter and deal with occasional debris.
When you get a tiny object in your eye, such as an eyelash or piece of fuzz, you can safely remove it at home.
What Not to Do if There’s Something in Your Eye
Before attempting any eye care first aid, here’s exactly what you should not do:
- Don’t rub your eye. Rubbing your eye when there’s a foreign body in it puts you at risk of corneal abrasion (scratch on the eye’s surface).
- Don’t use tweezers. Putting sharp objects near your eyes is dangerous.
- Don’t use a towel or a piece of clothing. This can further irritate your eye and cause corneal abrasions.
- Don’t touch your eyes with dirty hands. This can lead to infection and introduce more debris to your eye.
- Never try to remove objects penetrating your eye. Go to the emergency room immediately if an object has penetrated your eye.
When Should You Flush Your Eye?
Flushing your eye with water or saline solution can be helpful if:
- You can’t get debris out of your eye
- You have multiple small objects or specks in your eye
- Chemicals got into your eye
How to Flush Your Eye
To flush your eye, fill an eye cup or other container with clean water and dunk your eye in it. Open and close your eye until it comes out. Other options include:
- Gently pour water over your eye
- Using eye drops
- Letting water from a low-pressure shower hit your forehead and run over your open eye
Dangers of Getting Something Stuck in Your Eye
Getting something stuck in your eye usually isn’t dangerous, but it can be. Foreign objects and debris in your eyes put you at risk of:
- Infection. If something remains in your eye long enough, it can lead to an infection.
- Corneal abrasions. Most corneal abrasions heal within a few days but can cause long-term complications.
- Ulcers. The wound can develop an ulcer if a scratched cornea doesn’t heal.
- Eye penetration. Something entering your eye with force can penetrate the eyeball, putting you at risk of injury and blindness.
When to See a Doctor
In some cases, you’ll need the help of a medical professional to remove something in your eye safely. Visit the emergency room immediately if your eye is punctured or pierced.
Seek medical attention if:
- You have a chemical burn
- An object pokes a hole in your eye
- An object pierces your eye and gets stuck
- You’ve tried flushing your eyes with water, and the foreign debris remains
- Your eye still feels irritated a few days after removing foreign debris
- Your eye bleeds as a result of irritation from an object or chemical
- You can’t close your eye
- You experience blurred vision or other vision changes
- Your eye feels worse after you’ve removed debris
Your doctor will examine you for eye scratches or other damage. They might give you medication to prevent or treat an infection. You must undergo special testing to evaluate the damage if an object pierces your eye.
Foreign objects stuck in the eye are the most common eye injuries. If an object is penetrating your eye, don’t try to remove it. Seek emergency medical attention. You should also go to the emergency room for chemical burns.
Smaller objects can often be safely removed at home. Always wash your hands first and avoid rubbing your eyes. If you can’t easily remove the object, try flushing it out with clean water or saline.
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