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Corneal Foreign Body

What is a corneal foreign body?

A corneal foreign body happens when something gets stuck on your cornea. The cornea is the clear outer covering of the eye. The foreign body may scratch the cornea and causes symptoms.

Picture of a normal eye

What causes a corneal foreign body?

Anything that gets stuck in your eye may cause a corneal foreign body. Tiny pieces of metal, wood, and sand are the most common causes. Certain conditions may increase your risk for having a corneal foreign body. These may include windy weather, doing carpentry or industrial work, gardening, or being involved with sports.

What are the signs and symptoms of a corneal foreign body?

Feeling something in your eye is often the most common symptom. Other signs and symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Eye pain or redness or tearing of eye.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Cornea may be stained or have a rust ring.
  • Increased discomfort when eye is exposed to light.

How is a corneal foreign body diagnosed?

You may need one or more of the following:

  • Slit-lamp test: This test uses a microscope so caregivers can look into your eye. A fluorescein paper strip may be used to help caregivers clearly see a corneal scratch.
  • Visual acuity test: This test checks your vision and eye movements.
If the foreign body is too small to be seen, you may need the following:
  • Computerized tomography scan: This test is also called a CT or CAT scan. A special x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your eyes.
  • Ultrasound: This is a test using sound waves to find the corneal foreign body. Pictures of your eyes show up on a TV-like screen.

How is a corneal foreign body treated?

You may have any of the following:

  • Irrigation: Water is used to try to flush out the foreign body.
  • Instrumentation: Instruments may be used to remove the foreign body if irrigation does not work. Numbing medicine will be put on your eye before caregivers use instruments.
  • Medicine:
    • Eye medicines: Eye drops may be used to dilate (open) the pupil and decrease pain. The pupil is the part of the eye where light passes.
    • Pain medicines: You may receive medicine to decrease or take away your pain.
    • Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by germs called bacteria.

How can I prevent further injury to my eye?

  • Do not rub your eye or try to remove the foreign body. Try to keep your eye closed until a caregiver checks it.
  • Do not wear contact lenses until caregivers tell you it is OK.
  • Always wear safety glasses, eye shields, or goggles when working with power tools, gardening, or playing sports.
  • Do not rub your eyes while working with wood or metal pieces. Small pieces of wood or metal may be on your hands or gloves.

Where can I find more information?

Contact the following for more information:

  • National Eye Institute
    2020 Vision Pl.
    Bethesda , MD 20892-3655
    Phone: 1- 301 - 496-5248
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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