Eye conditions & symptoms 4 min read

Understanding Foreign Objects in the Eye

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Foreign objects such as pieces of plastic, wood, or metal can sometimes enter the eye, when this happens it can cause problems with your vision and eye health. Read more about the possible treatment options and how to help prevent foreign objects entering your eyes.

Foreign objects such as pieces of plastic, wood, or metal can sometimes enter the eye. Problems caused by foreign objects in your eye can range from mild to severe, and can occur for a number of reasons.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of having a foreign object in your eye include:

  • The feeling that there is something in your eye.
  • An increased rate of tear production.
  • Pain in your eye.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Photophobia (light sensitivity).

You may be able to see the foreign body on or around the cornea, while if it is metal the object can sometimes leave a rust-coloured stain on the cornea.

If you experience any of the following, you should go to the nearest accident and emergency department.

  • Severe eye pain.
  • Flashing lights.
  • Double vision.
  • Halos or spots around bright lights.
  • Reduced vision.
  • Blood in your eye.
  • Inability to wash out the object.
  • Eye bulging out of the socket.
cycling can lead to objects getting in your eyes

Complications of Foreign Objects in the Eye

Having a foreign object in the eye is not normally severe, and if there is any damage it should heal in a few days. However in serious cases, foreign objects can cause:

  • Infection
  • Corneal Penetration
  • Eyelid Damage
  • Bruising

The quicker you seek treatment the less chance of long-lasting or serious damage there is. If you suspect a foreign object may have entered your eye, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible.

How are Foreign Objects in the Eye Diagnosed? 

If you have foreign objects in your eye they can be detected during an eye examination. This can involve the following:

  • Turning your eyelids inside out.
  • Examining them with a magnifying glass.
  • Asking you to move your eye in all directions to test your eye muscles.
  • Asking you to blink repeatedly to check your eyelids are working.
  • Shining a light into your eyes to examine your pupil reaction times. 
  • An X-ray or CT scan.

How Eye Tests Work

There are a variety of eye tests that will be used to diagnose foreign objects in the eye as well as other eye conditions. The most common tests below will be used together with a doctor asking questions about your medical and family history.

  • Visual Acuity Test. You will attempt to read increasingly small lines of letters on a chart to check how sharp your vision is – the further down you can read the better your acuity.
  • Slit Lamp Examination. A test that combines a thin beam of light that illuminates the eye and allows a doctor to examine its condition with a microscope.
  • Refraction Test. You will be asked to read various charts though lenses of different strength to determine if you have a refractive error – meaning you may need to use glasses or contact lenses.

Other tests include dilation tests, where your pupils are dilated allowing the doctor to examine your retina, angiograms, which are used to check blood circulation and topography where a virtual map is made of your eye to look for any swelling or damage.

How Do You Treat Foreign Objects in the Eye? 

If you have or you think you may have a foreign object in your eye, you can try painkillers to reduce any pain or discomfort, however you should avoid touching or applying pressure to the eye, as well as not wearing contact lenses. 
You may also be able to flush your eye out with clean water for around 10-15 minutes. You can do this by:

  • Using a cupped hand or glass to pour water into the affected eye or eyes.
  • Pointing a shower of warm water just above the affected eye or eyes, while holding them open to allow the water to rinse.
  • Using a garden hose at low power if you are outdoors.

If an object is stuck in the eye itself you shouldn’t try to remove it – visit a GP or eye specialist as they will be medically trained to deal with such an occurrence. They may use local anaesthetic before trying to remove it, as well as giving you antibiotics to ensure it doesn’t become infected.

Preventing Foreign Objects Entering the Eye

To reduce the chances of foreign objects entering your eye, you can:

  • Wear safety goggles when doing something that could damage your eye such as working with tools.
  • Use tools carefully according to the instructions and keep nozzles and hoses pointed away from your face. 
  • Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or being active.