What Should I Do If Something Gets in My Eye?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on June 21, 2021

Nothing can stop you in your tracks like getting something stuck in your eye. Eyelashes, a fiber from your sweater, even the smallest speck of dirt can feel like a boulder and bring a waterfall of tears. Chances are, that waterfall will wash the object out of your eye.

If it doesn't, there are a few things you can try. What you should do depends on what’s in your eye and where it is.

First Steps

Before you get started, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don't rub your eye. It can cause a scratch on the surface of your eye called a corneal abrasion.
  • Don’t use cotton swabs or sharp things like tweezers to touch your eyeball.
  • Always wash your hands before you try to get something out of your eye.
  • If you wear contact lenses, take them out to make sure they won't get scratched or torn. Indeed, the foreign body sensation may actually be caused by a torn contact lens, so don’t try too many times to remove a lens that's not there. That could worsen an existing scratch. 

How to Look at Your Eye

Sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly where something is stuck in your eye. Make sure you have enough light to see what you’re doing.

Follow these steps to check your eye:

  • Open it really wide. You might be able to see the object on your eyeball.
  • Pull your lower lid down and look up into the mirror.
  • Lift your upper lid up and look down into the mirror.

Small Stuff

If the thing in your eye is a small speck like dirt, sand, a bit of makeup, or a fiber, there are a few things you can do to try and get it out:

If the speck is stuck in your upper eyelid, pull your upper eyelid down over your lower eyelid and let go. When your upper eyelid slides back, the speck might come out.

If the speck is in your lower eyelid, pull the eyelid out and press on the skin underneath so you can see the pink part of the inside of the eyelid. If you can see the speck, you can try to get it out with a damp cotton ball, being careful not to touch your eyeball. You can also run a gentle stream of water over the inside of your eyelid.

When to Flush Out Your Eye

Sometimes, you'll need the help of clean water or saline. Try it if:

  • A speck in your eye won't come out
  • There’s more than one speck in your eye
  • Chemicals get into your eye (in this case, use water only, and keep flushing for 15 to 20 minutes)

Fill a container or eye cup (you can get eye cups at the drugstore). Dunk your eye in it, then open and close your eye a few times.

Sometimes, it takes a team effort. You may need to lie down on your side and hold your eye open while a friend drops the water or saline into your eye from the side.

Once you get the object out of your eye, you should start to feel better in an hour or two.

When to Get Help

Your eyes are sensitive and delicate. Get medical attention right away if:

  • You get harsh chemicals in your eye like:
  • Something has poked a hole in your eye.
  • Something pierced your eye and is stuck there. Don't try to take it out yourself.
  • You can’t get specks of dirt or sand out of your eye.
  • It still feels like there’s something in your eye after you’ve tried to get it out, but you can’t see it.
  • Your eye bleeds.
  • You can’t close your eye.
  • Your vision changes.
  • Your eye doesn’t feel better, or it starts to feel worse, even though you got the object out.

When you get help, your doctor will want to take a look at your eye. They may put different kinds of drops in your eyes, like:

  • Medication to make your eye numb
  • Dye so they can see any scratches on your eyeball
  • Meds to widen your pupils

Your doctor might try to get the object out of your eye by flushing it out, or they may use needles or other instruments. If the object has pierced your eyeball and is stuck inside your eye, you might have a special X-ray or ultrasound taken to see exactly where it is.

Your doctor might give you antibiotic ointment to put in your eye to prevent infection. If there’s a scratch left on your eye after the offending object is removed, you may have to wear an eye patch while it gets better.

Show Sources

Harvard Medical School: “Foreign Body In Eye.”

AARP: “Foreign Object in the Eye.”

El Camino Hospital: “What to Do if You Get Something in Your Eye.”

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