By Korin Miller– Self
Getting anything stuck somewhere on or in your body isn’t exactly a picnic. (There’s a reason why sex toys for your butt should always have a flared base, after all.) When you’ve got something stuck in your eye, though, it can range from feeling like a pretty minor nuisance to complete agony. Here’s what to do if you’re in this unlucky position.
First things first: Go to the doctor if you’re experiencing severe eye pain, weird vision changes, or can actually see something lodged in your eyeball at any point.
Sometimes you can take things into your own hands and remove something from your eye, but that’s only if you’re not trying to dislodge an item like a shard of glass, Anupama Anchala, M.D., an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF. Sometimes you just need medical reinforcements in the form of professionals who know WTF to do when things are too dicey for you to DIY.
If something is actually embedded in your eye (not just on the surface), you’re in a world of pain, you suddenly can’t see as well, or you are experiencing other sight issues like blurry vision, call your doctor right away or go to the emergency room. Given how essential your eyes are, you really don’t want to wait for something like this to get better on its own. It probably won’t.
OK, so what if you’re pretty sure you’re just dealing with a wayward piece of a contact lens or a few grains of sand after a day at the beach? You may be able to handle it solo.
In order to remove something from your eye, you have to first make sure there’s actually something in there that shouldn’t be.
It seems like you’d obviously know whether or not something’s stuck in your eye. But some conditions like dry eye can actually make you feel like you have something in there when you don’t, Dr. Anchala points out. This is known as “foreign body sensation,” and it’s one of the top symptoms of dry eye, per the National Eye Institute (NEI).
Dry eye happens when the amount or quality of your tears fail to keep the surface of your eye properly lubricated, according to the NEI—and that can lead to the weird feeling of having something stuck in there even when nothing is. “Dry eye can cause a rough, sandy feeling in the eye because of the lack of fluid to keep the [eyelid] gliding smoothly over the cornea,” Vivian Shibayama, O.D., an ophthalmologist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, tells SELF.
Blephartis, a condition that causes eyelid inflammation, is also a common reason behind feeling like a foreign body has made its home in your eyeball when it hasn’t, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Sometimes even getting a scratch on your eye can make it feel like there’s something in there, the Mayo Clinic points out. (However, that feeling should go away within 24 hours—not the case with dry eye and blepharitis.)
When it feels like a foreign body is in your eye, ask yourself if you’ve been dealing with other symptoms of dry eye or blepharitis like itchiness, redness, weird discharge, or a burning sensation. If so, one or both of these conditions might be the cause. Either way, following the usual aaah-something-annoying-is-in-my-eye protocol can help you gather more clues as to what you’re dealing with.
Getting something out of your eye basically comes down to introducing more moisture into the situation, either by blinking or washing out your eye.
Blinking a few times is a good, totally non-invasive place to start, Dr. Anchala says. Though it seems minimal, blinking spreads tears across the surface of your eyeballs and may help wash out whatever irritant is in there, she explains. No dice? It’s time to step up your game and irrigate your eye, which sounds scarier than it really is. It essentially means you’re flushing out whatever is in there with a stream of clean water.
First, wash your hands with soap and water. If you’re wearing contacts, now is the time to remove them, or at least the one in the affected eye. Sometimes things can get embedded under the surface of contact lenses in the irrigation process, the Mayo Clinic says.
To irrigate your eye, you don’t need to somehow Cirque du Soleil yourself so your head is underneath your sink faucet. Instead, the Mayo Clinic recommends resting the rim of a small, clean drinking glass containing water against the bone right underneath your eye socket, then pouring the water over your eyeball. Depending on how urgently your eye is bothering you, you can also take the time to buy a device known as an eyecup that’s made specifically for flushing out eyes.
If none of those options are your speed, you can hop into the shower and direct a gentle stream of water onto your forehead, holding your eyelid open so that the liquid drips down into your eye. And, if thoroughly rinsing out your eye in some form or another doesn’t help with the foreign body sensation—or if you think you got the object out but you’re dealing with issues like pain and redness—you should see a medical professional for evaluation.
There are a few tactics you should never, ever try to get something out of your eye. (Unless you like the idea of potentially hurting yourself, that is.)
Even though rubbing your eyes in this case can feel like pure instinct, take a hard pass. “Rubbing the eyes can drag the foreign body on the surface of the cornea and cause an abrasion,” Dr. Shibayama says. Completely cringe-worthy, completely avoidable in this instance if you can keep your hands away from your fragile eyes.
Also, step away from the Q-tips, tweezers, or anything else you’re considering sticking in your eye to fish out the intruder. Yes, this even includes your fingers. All of these objects can seriously harm your eye by scraping up your delicate tissue, Dr. Anchala says. You might wind up with even more pain and problems on your hands—or, rather, in your eyes—which is probably the exact opposite of what you want.