What to do when there is something stuck in your eye

We’ve all had it. A stray eyelash, animal hair, a dust particle or worse, a contact lens or a tiny insect that has slipped passed the protective shield of your eyelashes to find its way into your eye.

It can be uncomfortable and disorienting when something gets stuck in your eye. Your first instinct might be to rub it. Don’t!

While you may be frantic to remove the obstruction, the most important thing to do is not panic. And never, ever rub your eye. This could lodge the unwanted object deeper or cause it to break into smaller pieces, making it more difficult to remove.

When something flies into your eye, there are three highly sensitive places it could settle:

  • Under your eyelid
  • On the white surface of your eye (the conjunctiva)
  • In the clear outer layer of your eye (the cornea)

By rubbing and pressing on your eye, you could scratch the cornea and damage other parts of your eye, leading to vision problems. Here’s what you can do to safely remove something stuck in your eye.

A beautiful lady rubbing her sore eye

Blink and roll your eye around

If you have something stuck in your eye, blink and roll your eye around. This could help to dislodge the object and gently prompt it to drop down to where you can see it. Blinking vigorously and repeatedly can help to shift the particle to the corner of your eye where you can gently and safely remove it with the tip of a clean finger. Avoid touching your cornea directly as you can easily cause a corneal abrasion, even with a soft cotton bud. 

Rinse your eye with running water

If you have something stuck in your eye, rinse your eye with running water. Use cool water and a clean cloth or paper towel. Rinse your eye for at least 20 seconds to attempt to dislodge the foreign object. An alternative to holding your eye open under a gentle stream of running water is to fill a container or eye cup with cool water and dunk your eye into it. While your eye is submerged, open and close your eye a few times.

Flush your eye with artificial tears

You can try flushing out your eye with artificial tears or a saline solution. Use your thumb and forefinger to gently hold open the eyelid of the affected eye while administering one drop at a time with an eye dropper. Hold still without blinking, letting each drop fall onto your eye. This may help dislodge the object and flush it away.

Rinse, flush and repeat

If the offending object does not dislodge with either rinsing with water or flushing with a sterile solution, you can try both methods. Start with rinsing your eye with cool, running water, followed by a few drops of a sterile solution to flush out the eye. It is safe to repeat this process a few times if necessary. Do not use hot water because it could damage your cornea.

See your eye doctor

Sometimes other afflictions such as inflammation of the eyelids (Blepharitis), eye styes, blocked eyelid oil glands and inflammation of the cornea (Keratitis) can feel as though you have something stuck in your eye.

If the feeling that something is stuck in your eye persists for more than two days, it is best to schedule a visit with your eye care provider. Your eye doctor will use a microscope to inspect your eye to determine what and where the irritation is. This includes looking for stray objects, scratches and infections that could be causing the irritation.

If a foreign object is still there, your eye doctor will use special tools to locate and remove the object without damaging your eye. If your discomfort is caused by an infection or corneal abrasion, your eye doctor will prescribe the appropriate treatment.