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Objects or chemicals in the eye

7-minute read

If you have something in the eye it can be annoying and dangerous. You can try to wash it out with warm water or saline. You should not try to remove it with a cotton bud or anything else. Seek medical attention straight away if you have a chemical in your eye or if something has pierced your eye.

What is an object or chemical in the eye?

An object in the eye is a particle such as dirt, metal or sawdust that enters the eye. It often happens when drilling, cutting or grinding, or when a particle is carried by the wind. Most objects in the eye are under the eyelid or on the surface of the eye.

It’s easy to splash your eye with chemicals while cleaning, gardening or at work.

First aid for an object or chemical in the eye

If you have an object in your eye:

  • Try to flush it out gently with water or a sterile saline solution (available from your local pharmacy). You can do this by gently pouring water or saline over the eyeball from a glass or small jug of water held against the eye. Flushing should remove any loose materials from your eye. You may be able to get an eye bath from your local pharmacy.

Getting chemicals in your eye can be quite serious, so it’s important that you take the right steps to prevent any lasting damage:

  • Try to find the container or packet that the chemical came in. It will have instructions on the back that tell you what to do if you get the product in your eye. If you cannot find the instructions, follow those below:
  • Flush your eye for at least 15 minutes with water or a sterile saline solution (available from your local pharmacy). You can do this by gently pouring water or saline over the eyeball from a glass or small jug of water held against the eye. Refill the glass or jug as needed to continue flushing for at least 15 minutes.
  • Cover your eye with a clean pad or a piece of sterile gauze and go to your nearest Emergency Department as soon as possible. Do not drive yourself. Ask a friend or relative to take you.

If you wear contact lenses remove them as soon as possible, if possible. Do not apply drops, ointment or any medicines to the eye before seeking medical treatment.

When should I see my doctor?

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

You should see a doctor as soon as possible if:

  • the pain gets worse
  • there is 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 is coloured or has blood in it
  • you develop a fever

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

How is an object in the eye treated?

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

Scratches on the eye will heal by themselves. You may need to wear an eye patch or use eye drops 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, to avoid the risk of irritating it or making it worse.
  • Avoid touching your eyes with dirty hands and fingers, which 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 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 protect your eyes by wearing a face visor or a pair of wrap-around goggles if you work in an environment where there’s a risk of getting objects such as wood chips, dust, or metal fragments, or chemicals in your eyes.

It is a good idea to speak to your employer about other protective clothing to minimise the risk of harm to other parts of the body.

The use of eye protection is also important at home when you perform certain activities, such as using garden equipment or cleaning or working with chemicals.

If possible, teach children not to insert objects into their eye. Make sure children under 3 cannot reach batteries (especially small button batteries), needles, pins, coins, marbles, the tops of ballpoint pens or polystyrene beads.

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 three at all times they are in contact with small objects, which include small items of food such as peas, beans or watermelon seeds.

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

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 the eye or an object that pierces the eye can cause a serious injury and can lead to blindness.

You might 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 the eyelid
  • swelling

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

Last reviewed: November 2020

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