Symptoms and Signs of Foreign Body in the Eye

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2021

Doctor's Notes on Foreign Body in the Eye

Anything that gets in the eye is medically termed a foreign body. This can range from an eyelash to a metal shard and any other object that gets into the eye. Depending on what gets into the eye, or how an injury occurred, a foreign body may scratch or pierce the eye may simply irritate the eye and go away with no long-term problem, or it could cause serious injury such as a corneal abrasion.

Symptoms of a foreign body injury to the eye may not be immediately apparent. In some cases, the symptoms of a foreign body in the eye may be intermittent. When symptoms of a foreign body injury to the eye occur they may include

  • sharp pain in the eye followed by burning,
  • irritation,
  • tearing, and redness;
  • feeling that something is in the eye;
  • a scratching sensation when blinking;
  • blurred vision or vision loss in the affected eye;
  • bleeding into the white part of the eye, which can be either a conjunctival hemorrhage or a subconjunctival hemorrhage;
  • blood layering in front of your iris,
  • the colored area of the eye, and
  • behind the cornea, the clear dome on the front of the eye (called hyphema, which may be a sign of significant injury).

What is the Treatment for Eye Foreign Body?

If there is a foreign body in your eye, seek medical care. 

First, rinse the eye with tap water to try to flush out the foreign body. If this does not work, a doctor can place numbing medication, tetracaine, in the eye to make the surface numb. Using a cotton swab, or a small needle or an instrument called a spatula, the doctor can remove most small foreign bodies. The foreign body may cause damage to the eyeball. Further treatment of damage done to the eye by a foreign body may include:

  • Corneal abrasions or scratches to the surface of the eye
  • Antibiotic ointment and/or antibiotic eyedrops
  • Pain medicine
  • Iritis from the trauma causes redness and pain in the front of the eye
  • Treated with drops to decrease spasm
  • Pain medications
  • A hyphema (blood in between the cornea and the iris) requires close follow-up care with an ophthalmologist
  • Any damage to the iris, the lens, or the retina requires immediate evaluation by an ophthalmologist and may require surgery
  • A ruptured eyeball requires surgery

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.