Getting something in your eye is annoying, uncomfortable, and, often dangerous. Though whatever may have found its way into your eye may be irritating, resist the urge to rub your eyes. Dirt or dust, or anything else may simply cause itching or watery eyes, but you could also scratch areas of the eye or develop an infection, leading to oozing pus or mucus.
Most foreign bodies in the eye, including dust and dirt, are naturally cleansed from the eye with blinking, tearing, and eye flushing with clean water or saline.
Foreign body removal from the eye should be performed with caution so as not to cause further damage to the eye or introduce additional foreign bodies or chemicals.
Avoid placing pressure on the eye that has had a foreign body.
Avoid cleaning the eye if there is evidence of corneal damage, a change in the anterior part of the eye, bleeding, or a possible globe rupture evidenced by fluid seeping out of the eye.
In this article, we will discuss ways of properly removing foreign objects from your eyes safely. Continue reading to learn more.
How to remove particles from the eyes
The unique structure of our face and skull protects our eyes from foreign objects and injury. This is possible because the eyes are set back behind an intricate set of bones, forming a shield-like cone that safeguards the eyes. Additionally, we have our own set of "windshield wipers," or eyelids. To complete the safety system, we also have a tear duct system that flushes the eyes continuously.
Our eyes are remarkably sensitive to change, particularly a foreign body, such as dust or dirt. When something gets caught in our eyes, our first involuntary response is to blink. Secondly, an unwanted particle triggers our tear ducts to start producing tears, and the volume increases as needed to flush the eyes. Therefore, tear production gives us the first hint as to what we should do to clear the eyes of dust and dirt.
It is often uncomfortable and fairly uncommon to remove a foreign object from our eyes successfully without proper cleansing, especially if it is a small speck of dirt. However, just like our eyes tears do naturally, the best method for cleaning the eyes is to flush them with water or saline. The saying in the emergency room when I was in medical school was, “dilution is the solution.”
When is it important to clean your eyes?
When you realize that you've got something irritating your eyes, it's time to cleanse the eyes properly to avoid further discomfort or damage. For example, a grain of sand can scratch the eye's surface if you rub your eyes too firmly instead of flushing out the foreign object. A good rule of thumb for knowing when your eyes may need more attention is if blinking and tearing are not enough to stop the discomfort.
Foreign objects can be large or small, like dust particles. The concern grows if, along with some harmless dust particles, there are elements of metal, glass, fiberglass, or other objects that may cause irritation and even infection.
Additionally, chemicals can be dangerous very dangerous for our eyes. We run the risk of burning our eyes, especially with a change in pH.
Furthermore, cleaning our eyes may be important if inflammation or infection has already begun. Diluting bacteria or a viral infection may be helpful for getting our eyes back to normal.
Foreign bodies affecting our eyes
Foreign bodies can stay on the surface of the cornea or get inside if a foreign body penetrates the front part of the eye or anterior chamber. Here are the types of foreign bodies:
- Superficial. These foreign bodies can become embedded in the cornea. They should be removed promptly to prevent damage to the cornea and help to avoid infection.
- Deep. These foreign bodies are more serious, of course. These require evaluation by an ophthalmologist. The good news is that even intraocular foreign bodies do not necessarily cause changes in vision if treated.
Best ways to clean the eyes
Particle removal should be done as carefully as possible. Loose foreign bodies can sometimes be removed with some dexterity. It is important not to rub the eye — though this is often our first instinctual response — since the particle may have sharp edges and can potentially damage the cornea.
Seeing the foreign body in your eye may be challenging. In many cases, a mirror can be useful, but it is often easier to get someone to help. Another important factor — make sure to take hand-washing precautions before attending to your, or someone else's eyes. This simple step helps to prevent foreign materials or chemicals from inadvertently being introduced into the eyes. Excessive blinking and tearing may help as well.
Flushing the eyes is vital. Many workplaces, kitchens, and other facilities have emergency eyewash solution stations. If nothing is available, clean tap water suffices.
Always remember to remove contact lenses before flushing. Use clean water or a specially-designed solution, and work your way from the pupil to the outside.
Flushing the eye for 15 minutes — or more if it is a foreign body. Additionally, chemical eye exposure may require much more flushing — for one hour or longer. Remember, both foreign bodies and chemicals can be present at the same time.
Other methods for washing the eyes should be used with caution. Medical professionals recommend consulting an ophthalmologist before trying the following methods or using some eye drops or ointments that happen to be lying around the house.
- Eye compresses (warm or cold). These can be helpful, but be sure not to apply too much pressure to the eye.
- Over-the-counter eye drops. Be careful here as well because these types of products produce varying levels of results and can even aggravate the eyes. Additionally, topical ophthalmic antibiotic ointments can provide lubrication but also may place the person at risk for a superinfection caused by difficult-to-treat bacteria. Topical corticosteroid ointments or drops should be avoided since they can slow healing.
- Ointments. Topical ophthalmic antibiotic ointments can provide lubrication but also may place the person at risk for a superinfection caused by difficult-to-treat bacteria. Furthermore, topical corticosteroid ointments or drops should be avoided since they can slow healing.
- Tea tree oil. This may do well to ease discomfort if there is evidence of inflammation or infection of the eyelids, called blepharitis.
When to see a doctor for eye cleaning?
It is a good idea to stop cleaning and seek professional medical care when any of the following are present:
- Bleeding in the anterior part of the eye (called hyphema). This may indicate a serious injury that requires medical attention and possible hospitalization.
- Diffuse corneal defect or opacity.
- Lacerated cornea or sclera (white of the eye).
- Single dilated pupil or an abnormally shaped pupil.
- A deeper or shallower anterior chamber (when compared to the other eye).
- Global rupture — there may be signs of liquid (aqueous humor) oozing from a place where there is a foreign body. This requires immediate medical attention.
- Multiple foreign bodies.
- Uncooperative patient (e.g., young child, intoxicated individual, patient with mental disability).
- Significant lid edema, or swelling.
- Diffuse bleeding under the eyelids may indicate infection.
Having a foreign invader in your eyes is not only frustrating, but it can also be dangerous. Properly removing dust or dirt from your eyes will save you from scratching your eye's surface or worse yet, doing more damage that requires professional medical attention. So the next time you feel like you have something in your eye, fight the urge to use your hands to rub it out and apply the methods we've discussed here.