Foreign body in the eye

By Live Dr - Tue Sep 02, 12:55 pm

Reviewed by Dr Caroline MacEwan, consultant ophthamologist

Any material such as dust, sand or paint that gets into the eye is called a foreign body. Foreign bodies fall into two categories.

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  • 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 (cornea or sclera) and enter the eye. These objects are usually travelling at high speed and are commonly made of metal.
  • How do you get foreign bodies in the eye?

    Non-perforating superficial foreign bodies are generally either blown or fall into the eye. This may occur, for instance, when working under a car or when outside on a windy day.

    Penetrating eye injuries tend to occur when people are hammering or grinding. Under these circumstances small pieces of metal travelling at high speed hit the eye and enter it through the outer coat of the eye.

    Is it a serious condition?

    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.

    What does it feel like?

    Superficial foreign bodies tend to be very uncomfortable. The foreign body may be stuck on to the cornea or the conjunctiva, causing a red, watery and gritty eye.

    The foreign material may have become stuck under the upper lid, whereby every time the eye opens and closes the pain increases.

    Penetrating eye injuries, although they are much more serious injuries, paradoxically are often much less painful. The vision may be reduced, but this is not always the case.

    How can I get rid of a foreign body?

    If you get a superficial foreign body in your eye, first-aid treatment in the form of gentle rinsing with warm water is appropriate. An ‘eye bath’ can make this easier to do on your own, or you can get someone to help rinse the eye from the side, with you lying down.

    Do not try to remove a foreign body with cotton buds, matchsticks or any other type of solid object. You could do more harm than good – go to the nearest casualty doctor or contact your GP’s surgery.

    It is also advisable to consult a doctor if you think you’ve had a foreign body in your eye and it’s continuing to cause irritation.

    If you think something has gone into your eye while you have been grinding or hammering, even if you have little in the way of pain or loss of vision, it is essential that you consult a doctor immediately and tell them about the circumstances of your injury.

    How does the doctor make a diagnosis?

    What happens if the foreign body is not removed from my eye?

    • the type of material that makes up the foreign body

    • the amount of damage it causes as it passes into the eye.

    How is a penetrating foreign body removed?

    An operation is needed to remove foreign bodies that have penetrated inside the eye. This usually takes the form of a vitrectomy, which involves going into the eye to remove the foreign material.

    At the same time, any damage to the eye caused by the entry of the foreign material can be repaired. This may involve removal of haemorrhage, removal of the lens or repair of retinal damage.

    Will there be any long-term effects?

    Superficial foreign bodies are not sight-threatening injuries and the eye tends to make a full recovery.

    Penetrating foreign bodies are potentially very serious and may lead to blindness or loss of the eye, even if treated appropriately.

    Based on a text by Dr Per Grinsted

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