One of the more common concerns we hear during emergency visits to our offices is that “something is stuck in my eye”. This may be from wind-blown particles, or fast-moving objects entering the eye as a result of sawing, hammering or metal grinding, or may be as simple as a contact lens folded up under the eyelid. When it happens you may experience anything from mild irritation and watering to extreme pain and redness. Whatever the cause or the symptoms, remember one thing – do not rub your eye!
We often see much more damage to the eye from eye rubbing than from the actual particle itself. Because of the nature of the ocular tissue, it is easy for small items such as pieces of metal to become lodged into the cornea, the conjunctiva (white part of the eye) or under the lids. When something enters your eye and you rub it, you may lodge the particle further into the affected tissue. This can make it more difficult to remove and increase the chances of complication such as infection. In the case of a small particle lodged under the eyelid, rubbing the eye can cause the particle to repeatedly scratch the cornea.
So what should you do if you feel something enter your eye and experience pain or irritation? You’ll likely notice that your eyes start watering — your eye’s automatic flushing system. If you are in a work environment and have an emergency eyewash kit, use that for several minutes. Artificial tear supplements can also be helpful. You should then give us a call and we’ll get a look at you as soon as possible, or if before or after office hours proceed to the nearest urgent care centre for treatment.
Once we’ve removed the offending object, we may prescribe an antibiotic to decrease the chance of infection. Depending on the severity of the injury we may also prescribe other types of drops. Your eye will likely still feel irritating even after the object is removed, until the damaged tissue repairs itself.
Of course, if you are in an environment where small particles are likely to enter your eye, it’s important to wear appropriate safety eyewear, and avoid the problem altogether.