KidsMD Health Topics

Foreign Bodies in the Eye

  • It's not uncommon for children to get foreign objects, like a speck of dirt, in their eyes. Foreign bodies in the eye refer to any objects in the eye not meant to be there. The object may be in the conjunctiva, a thin membrane that covers the actual eye. Or the object may be in the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye.

     

    »
    Referral to an ophthalmologist may be necessary if the foreign body is hard to remove or is causing the child pain.
    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

     617-355-6401

    »
    To learn how to avoid or prevent injuries from occurring, visit our Injury Prevention Program.
    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    BK 120
    Boston MA 02115
     617-919-3071
    +
    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Ave
    BK 120
    Boston MA 02115
     617-919-3068

  • 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
  • How is a foreign body in the eye diagnosed?

    Diagnosis is usually made after a complete physical examination of your child's eye.

    • Local anesthetic drops in the eye may be used in order to examine your 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.
    • A special light is then used to look at the surface of the cornea to see any abrasion or scratch.
    • If a foreign body is seen in your child's 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.
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