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Objects or chemicals in the eye

9-minute read

See a doctor as soon as possible, or go to your nearest emergency department, if you get chemicals in your eye or you get something in your eye during activities such as drilling, cutting or grinding.

Key facts

  • Most objects in the eye are found under your eyelid or on the surface of your eye.
  • Getting an object or chemical in your eye is serious — it can cause a long-term injury and could lead to blindness.
  • If you have an object or chemical in your eye, try to flush it out gently with water.
  • Do not try to remove any object that is stuck in your eye. Get medical assistance immediately.

What is an object or chemical in the eye?

An object in the eye is something small such as dirt, metal or sawdust that gets into the eye. Most objects in your eye can be found under your eyelid or on the surface of your eye.

Something can get in your eyes when you're cleaning, gardening or at work. It can also happen when something is carried by the wind and gets in the eye.

If you get something in your eye during activities such as drilling, cutting or grinding, you may have a more serious eye injury and should see a doctor straight away.

It's also possible to accidentally splash your eye with chemicals.

First aid for an object or chemical in the eye

An object in your eye

If you have an object in your eye:

  • Try to flush it out gently with water or a sterile saline solution available from a pharmacy.
  • Gently pour the water or saline over your eyeball.
  • Do not try to remove any object that is stuck in your eye. Get medical assistance immediately.

To flush your eye, hold a glass or small jug of water against your eye. This should remove any loose materials from your eye. You may be able to get an eye bath from a pharmacy.

Chemicals in your eye

Getting chemicals in your eye can be serious. It's important that you take the right steps as soon as possible. This will help prevent any long-term damage to your eye.

Try to find the container or packet that the chemical came in. It will have first-aid instructions on the back. If you can't find the instructions, follow the ones below:

  • Flush your eye with water or a sterile saline solution.
    • Gently pour the water or saline over the eyeball. Use a glass or small jug of water held against your eye. Refill the glass or jug to continue flushing for at least 15 minutes.
  • Cover your eye with a clean pad or a piece of sterile gauze. Go to your nearest emergency department as soon as possible. Do not drive yourself. Ask a friend or relative to take you.

If you're wearing contact lenses, take out your contact lenses if you can. If the surface of your eye is badly damaged do not remove the contact lenses.

Do not put any drops, ointment or any medicines in the eye.

When should I see my doctor?

If you can't wash the object out of your eye, you should see a doctor within 24 hours.

You should see a doctor as soon as possible if:

  • the pain gets worse
  • there's a change in your vision (especially if it's a sudden loss of vision)
  • your vision is blurred or there are black spots
  • you get a discharge from your eye that's coloured or has blood in it
  • you develop a fever
  • you get something in your eye during activities such as drilling, cutting or grinding
  • you get chemicals in your eye

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How is an object in my eye treated?

Your doctor or optometrist will check your vision. They may need to use special equipment to thoroughly examine your eye. They may need to arrange an x-ray or CT scan to check whether an object has entered your eyeball. They will then remove the object.

Scratches on your eye will heal by themselves. You may need to wear an eye patch or use eye drops from your doctor for a few days.

If you have a chemical in the eye, your doctor or optometrist will flush it out and give you pain relief. You may need to see an ophthalmologist (eye specialist).

While your eye is healing:

  • Try not to rub or scratch your eye, even if it's painful or itchy. Scratching can irritate your eye and make the injury worse.
  • Try not to touch your eyes with dirty hands and fingers. This may cause an infection. Wash your hands in warm soapy water and dry them before and after touching your eye.
  • If you are in pain, get advice on the pain relief medicines you can take.
  • If your eye area is bruised, hold an ice pack against it to reduce swelling. A frozen bag of peas wrapped in a tea towel makes a good ice pack. The bag of peas can be repeatedly re-frozen but you must not then eat the re-frozen peas.
  • If you have an injury to your eye you should avoid wearing contact lenses until the injury has healed. Try to wear your glasses instead.
  • Wear dark glasses for the next couple of days.

Can an object in the eye be prevented?

It's important to always protect your eyes. If you're in an environment where there's a risk of getting objects in your eyes wear a:

  • face visor
  • pair of wrap-around goggles

Risks in your workplaces may be:

  • chemicals
  • dust
  • metal fragments
  • small wood chips

It's a good idea to speak to your employer about preventing injuries in your workplace.

In your home, use eye protection when doing woodwork or gardening — such as sawing and pruning. You should also wear googles when using pool chemicals and acids or bleaches.

If possible, teach children not to put objects into their eye.

You can also:

  • choose toys that are appropriate for the age of the child
  • be aware that toys may have small parts that can be removed
  • encourage older children to keep their toys away from younger children
  • supervise children under the age of 3 years at all times, especially when they are using sharp objects such as paper clips and scissors

What are the complications of an object or chemical in my eye?

At the time of the injury or later, you may experience:

  • pain and burning
  • red, irritated or watery eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • a scratchy feeling when you blink
  • blurred or double vision
  • sensitivity to bright lights
  • bleeding
  • inability to open your eyelid
  • swelling

Most injuries to the eye are minor and will heal by themselves. But if the object isn't removed, it can cause infection or scarring.

If the surface of the eye is scratched it may not heal and an ulcer may form.

Getting a chemical in your eye or an object that pierces your eye is serious. It can cause a long-term injury and could lead to blindness.

Resources and support

You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Eye and vision problems Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2023

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