Any material such as dust, sand or paint that gets into the eye is called a foreign body. Foreign bodies fall into two categories.
- Superficial Foreign Bodies: these stick to the front of the eye or get trapped under one of the eyelids, but do not enter the eye.
- Penetrating Foreign Bodies: these penetrate the outer layer of the eye and enter the eye.
Is It Serious?
Superficial foreign bodies are not usually serious.
A penetrating eye injury can be extremely serious – it may lead to blindness if not detected and treated promptly. Even if treated appropriately, it may cause loss of vision.
Care For The Eye
Small Superficial foreign bodies:
- Begin by rinsing your eye with a saline solution (the same solution used to rinse contact lenses). Tap water or distilled water may be used if no saline solution is available.
- A water fountain makes a great eye wash. Just lean over the fountain, turn on the water, and keep your eye open.
- Hold a glass of water to your eye and tip your head back or to a side. Flush the eye with a stream of water. Do this many times.
- If you are near a shower, get in and put your eye under the running water.
- If you are working outside, a garden hose running at a very modest flow will work.
- If washing out your eye is not successful, the object can usually be removed with the tip of a tissue or a cotton swab. Pull back the eyelid by pulling down on the bottom edge of the lower lid or by pulling up on the upper edge of the upper lid. Look up when evaluating for a foreign body under the lower lid. Look down when evaluating for a foreign body under the upper lid. You will often need someone to help you in this case. Be very careful not to scrape the tissue or the cotton swab across your cornea, the clear dome over the iris.
For large foreign bodies or for embedded bodies (even if they are very small), do not attempt to remove them at home. See a medical professional immediately. Before going to the doctor, secure the eye and the object in place e,g, if a pencil has penetrated the eye, secure it with a paper cup. Do not move the eye unnecessarily.