Small objects in the eye

At a glance

  • If small objects get in your eye, they may injure your cornea (the clear part on the front of your eye).
  • Scratches on the cornea typically heal on their own.
  • It is important to go to the doctor if an object is stuck in your eye, if your eye is bleeding or hurts a lot.
  • Symptoms that last a long time or come back again should be seen by a doctor too.
  • Serious eye injuries need urgent medical attention.


Photo of a man cycling

There are plenty of situations where small objects can easily get in your eye – while riding a bike, gardening or playing on the beach, for instance. If something gets in your eye, it may injure the cornea (the clear part on the front of your eye). A scratch on the surface of the is known as “” or “corneal erosion.”

Small scratches (up to 4 millimeters) usually heal overnight, and bigger ones typically heal within two to three days. But they may lead to complications, so it's sometimes better to see a doctor.


The of the eye contains many fine nerve fibers, making it sensitive to touch and injury. Because of this, it's uncomfortable when a foreign object gets into the space between your eyeball and your eyelid, or gets under your contact lens. Your eye hurts and waters.

You can't always see scratches on the . But it feels as though something is stuck in your eye – even after removing the foreign object. Other possible symptoms of a scratched include sensitivity to light and blurry vision.


Our eyelashes, eyelids and tears normally work together to stop small objects from entering our eyes, or to quickly flush them out if they do get in. The firm and elastic helps to protect the sensitive eyeball from injury. Minor injuries to the are still quite common, though. They usually happen when something gets stuck under the eyelid or a contact lens.

A lot of different things can injure our eyes – like a twig that gets blown into your face while running in the woods, the fingernail of a toddler who unexpectedly stretches their hand out, or a poorly placed contact lens. Foreign objects may also get into your eye when doing DIY projects at home or activities in the workplace, for instance when using a milling machine or welding.


Superficial corneal abrasions usually heal within a few hours or days.

If symptoms return after a couple of weeks or months, you might have recurrent corneal erosion (RCE). Here the can’t heal because the new cells don’t attach properly. Symptoms may include pain after waking up, sensitivity to light, watery eyes, a twitching eyelid and blurry vision.

Recurrent corneal erosion is quite rare: It occurs in less than 1 out of 100 people who have a minor eye injury.


If the symptoms stop after a couple of hours and your eye hasn’t changed noticeably, you probably have a minor eye injury such as a scratched .

The following symptoms may be signs of a more severe injury that needs medical attention:

  • You have something stuck up high under your eyelid and it won't come out
  • In people who wear contact lenses: Your eye is red or uncomfortable
  • Your eye hurts a lot
  • Your eye has changed noticeably
  • Your eye is bleeding or oozing a fluid

If you think you have a more serious eye injury, it's best to have it checked by an eye doctor. If your eye hurts, it's important to describe exactly where it hurts – for example on the surface of the eye, inside the eye or only when you move your eye. The doctor will test your vision and the reactions of your pupil too.


A lot of work-related eye injuries can be prevented by wearing safety glasses. At dangerous workplaces in Germany and other countries, there are safety regulations to protect your eyes from hazards such as sanding, drilling, welding and exposure to acids.

But it's just as important to protect your eyes at home when doing DIY or gardening. Safety glasses that completely cover your eyes are particularly recommended when doing work above your head while looking up, and when using a hammer and chisel or sanding something. If small particles and bits of metal break off, they can hit the eye at a high speed and become deeply lodged.

It is important to take care while gardening too: Activities like re-potting plants with prickly leaves or thorns can lead to corneal injuries.


Your eye tries to flush away foreign objects by watering and blinking. If that doesn't work, you can try to get it out yourself or ask someone else to help you. If possible (to avoid injury), it's best not to touch the when trying to remove the object. If the object is at the lower edge of the eye, for example, you can carefully try to get it out with an unused tissue.

If you get chemicals in your eye, the first thing you should do is try to rinse your eye as thoroughly as possible with plenty of clean water.

It is important

not to start rubbing your eye, even though that’s often the natural reflex. Rubbing can damage the , especially if the object in your eye is hard or has sharp edges.

If you're not able to remove the object yourself, you will need help from an eye doctor. Doctors can carefully lift your eyelid and remove any foreign matter. If necessary, they can numb the eye with eye drops first.

A superficial corneal injury can be treated with an ointment:

  • Ointments that contain muscle-relaxants reduce swelling in the eyelid. But they also make the dilate (open wider) a lot. That temporarily makes the eye more sensitive to light and blurs your vision.
  • Antibiotic ointments can prevent infections in the injured part of the eye. But it's not clear whether they are more effective than treatment without . There is a lack of good research here.

If your eye hurts, you can use a painkiller like ibuprofen to relieve the pain. Painkillers are available as eye drops or tablets.

Eye patches usually aren’t used for minor eye injuries. They probably don’t speed up the healing process – in fact, they could slow it down. What's more, seeing through just one eye is annoying and increases the risk of further accidents. You need both eyes to be able to judge how close or far away things are.

If you think you might have a serious eye injury, it’s important to seek medical attention quickly. It is then a good idea to carefully cover the eye and have somebody take you to an eye doctor or hospital, preferably an eye clinic. You could cover it with a cupped hand, for instance. It is particularly important not to touch or rub your eye, no matter how much it might itch or burn.

Algarni AM, Guyatt GH, Turner A et al. Antibiotic prophylaxis for corneal abrasion. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2022; (5): CD014617.

Lim CH, Turner A, Lim BX. Patching for corneal abrasion. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2016; (7): CD004764.

Thiel B, Sarau A, Ng D. Efficacy of Topical Analgesics in Pain Control for Corneal Abrasions: A Systematic Review. Cureus 2017; 9(3): e1121.

Wakai A, Lawrenson JG, Lawrenson AL et al. Topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for analgesia in traumatic corneal abrasions. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2017; (5): CD009781.

Watson SL, Leung V. Interventions for recurrent corneal erosions. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2018; (7): CD001861.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Updated on October 4, 2023

Next planned update: 2026


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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