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Objects in the Eye

Overview

It's not uncommon for a speck of dirt or a small object, such as an eyelash or makeup, to get in your eye. Usually your natural tears will wash the object out. Objects may scratch the surface of the eye (cornea) or may become stuck on the eye. If the cornea is scratched, it can be hard to tell when you have gotten the object out, because a scratched cornea may feel painful and as though something is still in the eye. Most corneal scratches are minor and heal on their own in 1 or 2 days.

Small objects traveling at high speed or sharp objects traveling at any speed can cause serious injury to many parts of the eyeball. Injury may cause bleeding, a change in the size or shape of the pupil, a film over the eye lens, or damage to the inside of the eyeball. These objects may become embedded deep in the eye and may require medical treatment.

Objects in the eye can be prevented by using protective eyewear. Wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields when working with power tools or chemicals or doing any activity that might cause an object or substance to get into your eyes. Some professions, such as health care and construction, may require workers to use protective eyewear to reduce the risk of foreign objects or substances or body fluids getting in the eyes.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have a concern about an object in the eye?
This could be because an object is or was in the eye or because you think that there might be an object in the eye.
Yes
Concern about object in eye
No
Concern about object in eye
How old are you?
Less than 4 years
Less than 4 years
4 years or older
4 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female

The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.

  • If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
  • If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
  • If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Do you have a heat or chemical burn to the eye?
Yes
Heat or chemical burn to eye
No
Heat or chemical burn to eye
Have you had an eye injury that is more than just an object in the eye?
Yes
Eye injury
No
Eye injury
Has an object punctured or gone through the surface of the eyeball?
If the object is still there, do not try to remove it, and do not put any pressure on or around it.
Yes
Object punctured or penetrated the eyeball
No
Object punctured or penetrated the eyeball
Have you had any new vision changes?
These could include vision loss, double vision, or new trouble seeing clearly.
Yes
New vision changes
No
New vision changes
Did you have a sudden loss of vision?
A loss of vision means that you cannot see out of the eye or out of some part of the eye. The vision in that area is gone.
Yes
Sudden vision loss
No
Sudden vision loss
Do you still have vision loss?
Yes
Vision loss still present
No
Vision loss still present
Did the vision loss occur within the past day?
Yes
Vision loss occurred in the past day
No
Vision loss occurred in the past day
Have you had double vision?
Yes
Double vision
No
Double vision
Are you seeing double now?
Yes
Double vision now present
No
Double vision now present
Did the double vision occur within the past day?
Yes
Double vision occurred in the past day
No
Double vision occurred in the past day
Are you having trouble seeing?
This means you are having new problems reading ordinary print or seeing things at a distance.
Yes
Decreased vision
No
Decreased vision
Is there an object in the eye now?
If the object hit the eye at a high speed or is a piece of metal, do not try to remove it.
Yes
Object in eye
No
Object in eye
Did the object hit the eye at high speed?
With high speeds, there is a high risk of serious eye injury even if the symptoms seem minor.
Yes
Object hit eye at high speed
No
Object hit eye at high speed
Is there any metal in the eye?
Yes
Metal in eye
No
Metal in eye
Can you easily remove the object from the eye?
If the object is on the surface of the eye, you may be able to remove it safely. Do not try to remove the object if it is metal.
Yes
Able to remove object in eye
No
Unable to remove object in eye
Has there been a change in the size or shape of the pupil (the black center of the eye)?
Yes
Pupil changes after object got in eye
No
Pupil changes after object got in eye
Do you have any eye pain?
Yes
Eye pain
No
Eye pain
How bad is the pain on a scale of 0 to 10, if 0 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain you can imagine?
8 to 10: Severe pain
Severe eye pain
5 to 7: Moderate pain
Moderate eye pain
1 to 4: Mild pain
Mild eye pain
Does light make your eyes hurt?
Yes
Sensitivity to light
No
Sensitivity to light
Does the light hurt so much that you have trouble opening your eyes?
Yes
Hard to open eyes because of discomfort with light
No
Hard to open eyes because of discomfort with light
Does it feel like there is something in the eye?
This is worse than the eye feeling gritty or a little irritated. This actually may make it hard to keep the eye open.
Yes
Feels like something is in eye
No
Feels like something is in eye
Is it very hard or impossible to open the eye because of the discomfort?
Yes
Hard to open eye because of discomfort with feeling something in eye
No
Hard to open eye because of discomfort with feeling something in eye
Is there any redness in the part of the eye that's usually white?
This does not include a blood spot on the eye.
Yes
Redness in part of eye that's usually white
No
Redness in part of eye that's usually white
Has the eye been red for more than 24 hours?
Yes
Eye red for more than 24 hours
No
Eye red for more than 24 hours
Do you think the eyelid or the skin around the eye may be infected?
Symptoms could include redness, pus, increasing pain, or a lot of swelling. (A small bump or pimple on the eyelid, called a stye, usually is not a problem.) You might also have a fever.
Yes
Symptoms of infection around eye
No
Symptoms of infection around eye
Do you think you may have a fever?
Yes
Possible fever
No
Possible fever
Do you have diabetes or a weakened immune system?
What weakens the immune system in an adult or older child may be different than in a young child or baby.
Yes
Diabetes or immune problem
No
Diabetes or immune problem
Is there any pus coming from the area around the eye (not from the eye itself)?
Yes
Pus from area around eye
No
Pus from area around eye
Is there any swelling around the eye?
Yes
Swelling around eye
No
Swelling around eye
Is the swelling so severe that you cannot see out of the eye?
Yes
Severe swelling around eye
No
Severe swelling around eye
Is the swelling getting worse?
Yes
Swelling around eye is getting worse
No
Swelling around eye is getting worse
Is there any blood in the eye?
This includes blood spots on the surface of the eye.
Yes
Blood spot or blood in eye
No
Blood spot or blood in eye
Is there any blood in the colored part of the eye?
Blood that is only in the white part of the eye is usually not as serious as blood in the colored part of the eye.
Yes
Blood is in colored part of eye
No
Blood is in colored part of eye
Does the blood cover more than one-fourth of the white part of the eye?
Yes
Blood covers more than one-fourth of white of the eye
No
Blood covers more than one-fourth of white of the eye
Is the blood spot getting bigger or is the amount of blood increasing?
Yes
Blood spot or amount of blood is growing
No
Blood spot or amount of blood is growing
Are you having a contact lens problem?
Yes
Contact lens problem
No
Contact lens problem
Can you remove the contact lenses?
Yes
Able to remove contact lenses
No
Unable to remove contact lenses
Does removing the contact lenses make the eye problem better?
Yes
Removing contact lenses helps
No
Removing contact lenses helps
Is there any pus or thick drainage coming from the eye (not from the skin around the eye)?
This does not include water or thin, watery drainage. Pus is thicker and may make the eyelids stick together.
Yes
Pus draining from eye
No
Pus draining from eye

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

There are a couple of ways to safely remove an object from the eye.

Do not try to remove:

  • Any object made of metal.
  • Any object that has punctured the eye.

To remove a nonmetal object that is on the surface of the eye or inside the eyelid:

  • Wash your hands before you touch the eye.
  • Try to gently flush out the object with water.
  • If the object is on the white part of the eye or inside the lower lid, wet a cotton swab or the tip of a twisted piece of tissue and touch the end to the object. The object should cling to the swab or tissue.
  • Do not use tweezers, toothpicks, or other hard items to remove an object.

Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Long-term alcohol and drug problems.
  • Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety of conditions.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Other medicines used to treat autoimmune disease.
  • Medicines taken after organ transplant.
  • Not having a spleen.

Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and congenital heart disease.
  • Steroid medicines, which are used to treat a variety of conditions.
  • Medicines taken after organ transplant.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Not having a spleen.

Pain in adults and older children

  • Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
  • Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days. Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's there.
  • Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain, but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.

Pain in children under 3 years

It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.

  • Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or grimace.
  • Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds when you try to comfort him or her.
  • Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds when you try to comfort him or her.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.

  • Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
  • You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
    • You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
    • You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.

Make an Appointment

Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.

  • Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
  • If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
  • If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.

Eye Injuries
Burns to the Eye

Self-Care

These tips can help you remove an object from the eye. If you are caring for a child who can't hold still, have another adult help you.

  • Wash your hands before touching the eye.
  • Don't rub.

    Don't rub the eye since this can scratch the outer surface (cornea) of the eye. You may have to keep small children from rubbing their eyes.

  • Remove contacts.

    If you wear contact lenses, take your contacts out before you try to remove the object or flush the eye.

  • Check the location.
    • If an object is over the dark center (pupil) of the eye or over the colored part (iris) of the eye, you may try to flush it out gently with water. If the object does not come out with flushing, wear dark glasses and call your health professional. Do not put any pressure on the eye.
    • If the object is on the white part (sclera) of the eye or inside the lower lid, wet a cotton swab or the tip of a twisted piece of tissue and touch the end of it to the object. The object should cling to the swab or tissue. Some minor irritation is common after you have removed the object in this way.
    • Often the object may be under the upper eyelid and can be removed by lifting the upper lid away and gently flushing the eye with cool water. A clean eyedropper may help.
  • Use caution.

    Do not try to remove a piece of metal from your eye, an object that has punctured the eye, or an object stuck on the eye after flushing with water.

  • Avoid these.

    Never use tweezers, toothpicks, or other hard items to remove any object. Using these items could cause eye damage.

When to call for help during self-care

Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:

  • Vision changes, such as blurred vision, loss of vision, or double vision.
  • Pain or drainage that does not get better.
  • New blood in the eye.
  • New sensitivity to light.
  • New signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, pus, or a fever.
  • Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.

Learn more

Preparing For Your Appointment

Credits

Current as of: March 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine