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Foreign object in the eye, what should I do?

WHAT TO DO: FOREIGN OBJECT IN MY EYE

Don’t panic! 

What is foreign object in the eye? It is something that should not naturally be there. Dust, eyelashes, fibre from a sweater, insect or even metal pieces could also be the foreign objects.

Most of the time, foreign objects are simply particles in the air and they are so small that we can barely notice them. When they get into our eyes, they are harmless and could be removed easily. They will most likely affect the exterior part of your eyes, such as cornea, eyelid or conjunctiva. 

However, there are times foreign objects can get into the eye via other reasons. For instance, accidents or doing work that creates flying particles without proper eye protection. In this scenario, the size of foreign objects and how deeply it enters the eye, could make things get serious. There is a patient who comes to Malaya Optical with a complaint of foreign body sensation and is associated with little pain on his eye. Our optometrist had performed a slit lamp biomicroscopy on him and this is what we found! 

According to him, he was injured while performing his work with a welding torch. It was sad to know that he had no proper eye protection and the sparks with tiny metal pieces penetrated his cornea! He did not receive any treatment and finally came to us four days later as the pain gradually increased. As professional and qualified optometrists, we strongly believe that it is our responsibility to raise public awareness of what to do when foreign objects get into your eyes, particularly to occupations such as woodcutters, labourers, electrician , welders and so on. People in these professions are exposed to higher risk of getting foreign objects compared to ordinary people. 

There are several symptoms when foreign bodies in your eyes. 

  • the feeling of something is in your eyes, or grittiness.
  • Sharp protrude pain followed by burning and irritation.
  • Watery eyes
  • Red eyes or bleeding into the white part of the eye 
  • Scratchy feeling when you blink your eyes
  • Sensitive to bright lights or glare
  • See things blurry or even loss of vision in the affected eye. 

How to remove the foreign object? 

Before you start anything, please wash and dry your hands before you try to get something out of your eye. Always remember NEVER rub your eye as you are not sure if the foreign object is sharp as it may scratch your eyes while you rub your eyes. Besides, it is not advisable to use cotton swabs or sharp object like tweezers to pick out the foreign object by yourself. If you wear contact lenses, gently remove them to ensure your contact lenses won’t get scratched or torn. Sometimes, the foreign object may be located between your cornea and contact lenses, which can cause corneal abrasion due to excess scratching on cornea. 

The easiest method to remove the foreign object is to wash it out using saline or eye wash solution. If you got none of them, tap water, hose with gentle flow or a shower are good alternate choices. Use a generous amount of water to gently flush the foreign objects out of your eyes. Keep repeating this step for 15 to 20 minutes. If you feel the object is still in your eyes even if you have flushed for many times, you could get your family member, or friend or someone nearby to help remove it manually. By using a damp cotton ball, carefully swipe it out. You may look in the opposite direction of where you feel the foreign object is to protect your cornea. For example, if foreign object sensation is at the upper part of the eye or upper eyelid, you may look down, and vice versa. You should feel better in an hour or two after you remove the foreign object out of your eyes. 

For foreign objects that are large in size or have penetrated the eye (just like the pictures above), seek for medical attention immediately. Go to the hospital and look for the emergency department. They do have several professional medical treatments that are helpful to remove foreign object such as topical medications or using needles or other instruments. For worse scenarios, surgery is needed. 

Most injuries from a foreign object in the eye are minor and usually heal provided right care is taken. However, there are some possibilities of complications such as infection scarring, corneal scratch or abrasions, ulcer and permanent weaker visual acuity. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, it is critical for us to have proper eye protection especially if you are working in a sector that is hazardous to your eyes. Certified safety goggles or safety eyewear can effectively reduce the risk of injury.