How to Get Something Out of Your Eye

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Video: How Can You Get Something Out of Your Eye You Can’t See?

Fourth in a four-part series on eye problems.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

I get a lot of specks of dirt, metal, rust, and other debris out of people’s eyes. Protective goggles keep out most foreign bodies, but it takes just the tiniest speck to make your eye all irritated and water like you’ve got a tree limb in it. Often the speck’s so small I need a magnifying glass—even a special microscope called a slit lamp—to see it. Sometimes the speck is already out and the person is feeling the scratch it left behind. Many find it hard to believe me when I tell them it’s the teeny scratch and not the speck that’s causing all that discomfort.

If a larger object hits the eye hard or anything appears to have punctured the eye surface, I refer the person immediately to an eye specialist. You should leave it alone. Don’t do anything until you can get to a doctor.

But, if it’s that tiny speck and you’re in a disaster situation where you can’t get to a doctor, here’s how to get something out of your eye:

  1. First you can try washing the eye out with clean water. Wash it well with some mild pressure like you’d use to wash out a cut. Maybe put it under the faucet if there’s one available. Pull down the lower lid and pull up the upper lid and squirt all around.
  2. Have someone examine your eye thoroughly. (If no one’s around, you’re going to need a mirror.) It’s pretty easy to see something on the white part. Something on the cornea (the clear covering over the colored part) can be harder to see. Have the person look directly and sideways through your cornea. If they have a light, have them shine it at various angles.
  3. Still shot of the video "How to Get Something Out of Your Eye."You haven’t finished the exam until someone has flipped your upper lid (turned it inside out). It’s a common spot to for the specks to hide. I show you how to do this in my video.
  4. Lastly, shine the light at different angles to look for a scratch or a little gray spot, which would be an ulcer. Both feel the same as a something in your eye. But some of these are impossible to see without fluorescein eye drops or strips. The yellow fluorescein concentrates in corneal scratches and ulcers. If you have a black light, the injured spot will light up like a Christmas tree.

If you locate something in your eye, to get it out:

  1. Take a moistened cloth or cotton swab and dab it on the speck. It should come right out. You’ll see it on the swab or cloth, if the cloth is white.
  2. If it’s on the cornea, make sure you’re gentle and quick. The cornea is extremely sensitive, and your blink reflex will be working overtime. Be sure not to brush across the cornea since you can easily scratch it. If it doesn’t come out easily you’re going to need to wait and see a health-care professional who has numbing drops and something like a sterile needle or other instrument.

If you think it’s a scratch or ulcer, or your eye still bothers you despite getting something out, you’re just going to have to use antibiotic ointment and wait to see a doctor with the proper tools and expertise for diagnosis and treatment. Many scratches and ulcers will go away on their own, but some get worse. Don’t take the chance if you can get medical help.

This won’t make it heal any faster, but if your eye is driving you crazy, wear a patch. Double up some gauze, and tape it down to keep your eye shut completely. Your eye’ll get irritated less if it’s not blinking. Remember, no one can judge distances correctly with only one eye.

Wear sun shades outside. If one eye dilates or constricts due to light changes, both do. Even if the injured eye is patched, the good one will be sensitive to the sunlight.

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  • Nancy

    I just got out a speck of my daughter’s eye by flipping her lid and using a Q-tip (we’re snowed in and didn’t want to risk driving to the ER). Thanks for the help!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You’re welcome.

  • luella zarf

    Thank you, doctor, add me to the choir of grateful people you’ve already got here. I just used a wet cotton swab on the inside of the upper lid and the torment was over. Thank you for taking the time to help us.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You’re welcome. Glad it helped.

  • Pingback: 2 Medical Procedures You Can Do at Home—and Avoid the ER «()

  • autumn d

    I feel like you just saved my life! The top eyelid over the bottom did the trick. I was pretty sure I was going to experience death by eyeball before I found this article. Thank you!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Great. Glad to help.

  • Atul

    Thanks Doctor James Hubbard, Yesterday in their was festival in my family and there was so many coconut pealed and due to air hard waves one particle of that coconut stuck in my eye. It was paining a lot since a day. Finally as per your suggested tip I make this out. Thanks a lot.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You’re welcome.

  • Amanda

    I just want to say thank you. I’ve been trying to get something very small and painful out of my eye for over 2 hours. The upper over the lower lid trick worked. I had to do it 3-4 times but it did the trick.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Great, Amanda. Glad to hear it.

  • Shana Lauren Kipnis Smith

    You’re a life saver! I had something stuck in my eye for a few hours. I tried to flush it out with saline that didn’t work, I cried, that didn’t work. I then watched this video about flipping my eyelid over a q-tip, and I was able to find the litte piece of dirt in my eye. Thank you so much for making this video!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You’re welcome. I’m glad it helped.

  • Charlie

    My eye feels like crap right now because my have slipped and I now have a q tip in my eye

    • BabalooMandel

      lol what

  • Nicko

    Mate bloody good stuff! Had a speck of rock in my eye, annoyed and hurt the shit out of me for hours, couldn’t get to a doctors. Flipped the lid and as soon as I blinked it was gone. Could kiss ya champ

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Glad it helped.

  • Chris Dobal

    I just want to say THANK YOU for this video on how to turn your upper lid inside-out to find the offending particle!! Last night I was cutting some PVC pipe with a hacksaw and a TINY speck of it got into my eye. It was so painful and I’d been flushing my eye and trying to see it with a LED light for over two hours when I turned to the Internet in frustration and found this page. I grabbed a q-tip and turned my lid inside-out and two minutes later I had the PVC speck removed. You saved me a late night trip to the ER last night, THANK YOU!!!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You’re welcome