Health Encyclopedia

Foreign Bodies in the Eye

What are foreign bodies?

A foreign body is any object in your child’s eye that isn’t supposed to be there. The foreign object may be in the conjunctiva. This is a thin membrane that covers the actual eye. Or it may be in the cornea. This is the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye.

What causes foreign bodies in the eye?

The most common foreign bodies in the conjunctiva include:

  • Dust
  • Dirt
  • Contact lenses
  • Sand
  • Makeup

The most common foreign bodies in the cornea include:

  • Pieces of metal
  • Pieces of rusty objects

What are the symptoms of foreign bodies in the eye?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They may include:

  • Feeling like there’s a foreign object in the eye
  • Eye pain, especially when looking at light
  • Tearing of the eye
  • Blinking a lot

The symptoms of foreign bodies in the eye may look like symptoms of other eye issues or health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a foreign body in the eye diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s health history. He or she will also give your child an eye exam. Your child may get local numbing (anesthetic) eye drops for the exam.

Your child’s healthcare provider may also order a fluorescein stain. This test can tell if there is an abrasion in your child’s cornea. For this test, your child’s healthcare provider will place a small amount of a dye into your child's eye. This won’t hurt your child. Then, your child’s healthcare provider will use a special light to look at the surface of the cornea to see an abrasion or scratch.

How is a foreign body in the eye treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Removal of the foreign body

If your child’s healthcare provider sees a foreign body, he or she may remove it. He or she may use a small cotton applicator to do this. Or he or she may wash your child’s eye out with saline.

Medicine

The provider may put an antibiotic ointment in your child's eye.

Evaluation by an eye doctor

If your child’s healthcare provider can’t remove the foreign body or if your child is in a lot of pain, your child may need to see a specialist. Your child’s healthcare provider may refer your child to an ophthalmologist or optometrist. These are doctors with special training to treat eye problems.  

An eye patch

If your child has a scratch or injury to the cornea (corneal abrasion), he or she may need to wear an eye patch. This can make your child more comfortable. Your child may need to wear the patch for 12 to 24 hours. Your child’s healthcare provider may use a soft contact lens instead of a traditional patch. Your child may also need an antibiotic eye ointment.

If your child’s abrasion is severe, your child will need to see an eye doctor. Severe abrasions increase the risk for eye damage.

Tetanus shot

Your child may need a tetanus shot after the foreign body is taken out. This depends on what the foreign body was. It also depends on the vaccines your child has already had.

Your child will need follow-up care with his or her healthcare provider after the foreign body is removed.

Key points about a foreign body in the eye

  • A foreign body means any object in your child’s eye that isn’t supposed to be there.
  • Common foreign bodies in the eye include dirt, dust, makeup, and pieces of metal or rusty objects.
  • If your child’s healthcare provider sees a foreign body, he or she may remove it with a small cotton applicator or saline.
  • If your child’s healthcare provider can’t remove the foreign body or if your child is in a lot of pain, your child may need to see an eye doctor.
  • Your child will need follow-up care with his or her healthcare provider after the foreign body is taken out.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.


Medical Reviewers:

  • Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
  • Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.