Foreign Body in the Eye

Most people have suffered the discomfort of a foreign body entering the eye, even minute items such as very small pieces of dust, grit, particles flying from an emery wheel (common in industry), a cinder, or grains of sand in windy weather can cause acute discomfort and distress.

There is usually a desire to rub the eye, which will invariably aggravate the problem, causing the invader to traumatize a wider area of the highly sensitive lining, or conjunctiva.

Often large objects may partially enter the eye and abrade or injure the superficial surface. This can cause considerable discomfort and a “traumatic conjunctivitis” to occur.

Foreign Bodies in the Eye Symptoms

There’s generally a lot of pain when a foreign body, irrespective of size, enters the eye. There may be redness, irritation, itch, watering and a desire to rub, which only aggravates the condition. The eye may become very light-sensitive, so the child closes the lid and rubs it.

Foreign Bodies in the Eye Treatment

Bathe the eye. Frequent bathing of the affected eye with an eyebath of warm salty water will often remove the offending foreign body.

Reflection of eyelid. If this does not remove the object, reflect (i.e. turn back) the upper eyelid over a match. Often the foreign body may be seen adhering to the inner side. It may be simply removed with the moistened tip of the corner of a handkerchief, or piece of cottonwood rolled up into a tight wick and moistened. This is usually simple and painless. If the foreign body is seen on the eyeball, it may be removed in a similar manner.

Never attempt to touch the eyeball with a needle or any sharp or solid metal object. The eye is a very precious, delicate organ, and great care is essential.

If these simple measures are not successful, seek prompt medical attention. The doctor will use other methods, and may first insert local anesthetic drops. Pieces of metal (e.g. hot metal in a factory, pieces of grit from a revolving emery wheel, pieces of metal from filings etc.) often become deeply embedded in the cornea, the “window” of the eye. These need expert assistance, and only a doctor or eye specialist should attend to these. Sometimes antibiotic drops or ointments are prescribed afterwards to prevent infection.

Foreign bodies in the eye often occur more likely on hot, windy days when there’s a lot of dust in the air. It’s common at beaches and also worse on gusty days.

Another place where serious problems may occur is in workshops where particles may fly from a grinding machine and lodge in the surface of the eyeball. These may be hot pieces of metal that can cause permanent visual impairment if they strike the cornea and injure it. Also, flashes from welding machines and corneal burns are common and extremely painful injuries that should never happen, especially to youngsters.

No child should be allowed to go into one of these places unless wearing protective goggles. It’s probably more common on farms where there’s not so much supervision, and children are often attracted to the farm workshop to “help dad.”

Bathing the eye using a simple eyebath filled with warm water (or mildly salty water) may assist. In some cases this will wash the foreign body out.

It’s worth reflecting the upper lid over a match, or a cotton wool bud applied to the outside of the eyelid. By gently grasping the eyelashes between thumb and index finger it is easy to do this. Often the offending foreign body (a tiny black speck usually) may be seen adhering to the inner surface of the reflected upper lid. It may be simply removed by touching with the moistened tip of a hanky or cotton wool rolled into a point and moistened. Sorry to sound ominous, but what if the item is not seen and still continues to produce discomfort?

Then it is high time to take the patient to the doctor. Sometimes the foreign body will be embedded in the surface of the eye. Often it is very hard to see, and special magnification and instruments may be necessary to remove it. This is especially important if it lies on the cornea, the window through which one sees. Scratching or injury to the cornea may be serious. On no account touch the surface of the eye with anything sharp. This is entirely within the province of the doctor or eye specialist. Remember this; it is vitally important.