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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices

Have Something in your Eye? Here's What to do!

The eye is a very sensitive organ, for its own protection. So even the smallest particles in the eye can be extremely painful. What should you do when you get something in your eye?

The first reaction most people have is to rub the eye. DON'T! Try not to let your child rub their eyes either. Rubbing can scratch the cornea, the clear membrane of the eyeball that covers the colored portion (the iris) and the black pupil. The cornea is not only a very sensitive membrane in that a scratch will cause a great deal of pain, but it is also a very important membrane in that, if a scratch becomes infected, the cornea could become permanently cloudy and impair vision or even cause blindness. Scratches of the cornea usually can only be seen with a special instrument used by a doctor. If you can see that the object has penetrated the eyeball, is stuck in the cornea, or has caused bleeding, don't try to remove it yourself. Cover the eye with a loose patch or have the person cup a hand over it, and seek medical help as soon as possible.

For most small particles of dust, sand, etc., removal at home is easy and safe. The body's defense against objects in the eye is to produce tears - lots of them - to flush out the object. This is the same principle you'll use to remove the object. First wash your hands carefully. Then, flush the eye gently with lots of cool water. You may use an eye dropper, or allow a thin stream of water from the faucet to run over your hand which you then direct over the eye. Never use tweezers or any other hard instrument to remove objects.

If irrigation does not work, the object may be stuck to the inner surface of the lower lid. Have the person look up, then place your finger on the skin of the cheekbone, and pull the skin and thus the lower lid down. Try irrigating in the pouch that is formed by the lower lid. If the object is still stuck, carefully try getting it out with a facial tissue or clean handkerchief.

If the object is stuck to the inside surface of the upper lid, the person will often be OK when the eye is open, but complain of pain upon blinking. This is caused by the object scraping across the cornea every time the upper lid comes down to close the eye. To remove the object, have the person look down and then place your finger on the skin of the brow bone, and pull the skin and thus the upper lid up. Or you may try gently pulling directly on the upper lid or eyelashes, but this may cause the eyelid to turn inside out. This is not harmful, and may actually help you in getting the object out.

Irrigate as best you can into the upper lid pocket or try to wipe the object off with a tissue or handkerchief. If the lid has everted, just have the patient look up. The lid will flip back into place on its own.

If you think the object may have scratched your child's cornea (as is likely when the foreign body was stuck to the inside of the upper lid), or if redness, swelling, warmth, yellow/green discharge or pain develops after the object has been removed, see their pediatrician.

Of course, the best way to avoid eye injury from foreign bodies is to protect them. Wear sunglasses with side screens outdoors on windy days, and if your work exposes you to small airborne particles, wear eye protection. People who wear contact lenses should be especially careful because their eyes are even more sensitive to small foreign particles than others.


As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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