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Foreign Bodies in the Eye

What are foreign bodies?

Foreign bodies refer to any objects in the eye that are not meant to be there. The foreign object may be in the conjunctiva (a thin membrane that covers the actual eye) or in the cornea (the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye).

What are the most common types of foreign bodies in the eye?

The most common foreign bodies in the conjunctiva include the following:

  • dust
  • dirt
  • contact lenses
  • sand
  • cosmetics

The most common foreign bodies in the cornea are pieces of metal or rusty objects.

What are the symptoms of foreign bodies in the eye?

The following are the most common symptoms of foreign bodies in the eye. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • sensation of a foreign object in the eye
  • pain in the eye
  • tearing of the eye
  • pain when the child looks at a light
  • excessive blinking

The symptoms of foreign bodies in the eye may resemble other eye conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is a foreign body in the eye diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made after a complete medical history and physical examination of your child's eye. Local anesthetic drops in the eye may be used in order to examine the child. In addition, your child's physician may also order a fluorescein stain to help confirm the diagnosis and evaluate if there is an abrasion to the cornea. A fluorescein stain is done by placing a small amount of a dye in your child's eye. This does not hurt your child. A special light is then used to look at the surface of the cornea to see any abrasion or scratch.

Treatment of a foreign body in the eye:

Specific treatment for a foreign body in the eye will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the injury
  • your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the injury
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • If a foreign body is seen in the eye, it may be removed with a small cotton applicator or by washing the eye out with saline.
  • An antibiotic ointment may be placed in the eye.
  • Referral to an ophthalmologist (physician who specializes in comprehensive eye care) may be necessary if the foreign body is hard to remove or is causing the child severe pain.
  • If a corneal abrasion (a scratch or injury to the cornea) is detected, treatment may include:
    • A patch over the eye may be used to help decrease your child's level of discomfort. A patch is usually required for 12 to 24 hours.
    • Close follow-up with your child's physician is needed to ensure that the abrasion heals completely.
    • Severe abrasions or cuts into the cornea will be managed by an eye specialist because of the increased risk of damage to the eye.
    • An antibiotic ointment may be placed in the eye.
  • A tetanus shot may be given depending on the type of foreign body and the vaccination status of the child.
  • Close follow-up with your child's physician is needed.

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Common Childhood Injuries & Poisonings

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