Ocular foreign body

An ocular foreign body is a common condition, in which a small particle (such as a piece of grit or small rust particle) becomes stuck on your eye.

An ocular foreign body is a common condition, in which a small particle (such as a piece of grit or small rust particle) becomes stuck on your eye. If the object becomes stuck on the cornea – the front window of your eye – this is called a corneal foreign body. If the object is stuck under your lid, this is called a sub- tarsal foreign body, which may cause scratches to the surface of your cornea. If a corneal foreign body is metal, a small ring of rust may form around it and this may also need to be removed.

What are the symptoms?

The surface of your eye contains many nerves, which makes it very sensitive to any scratch or foreign body on the front of your eye. Your eye may be painful, red, watery and light sensitive and your vision may be blurred.

What is the treatment?

The doctor or nurse will use local anaesthetic eye drops to numb your eye and will remove the foreign body with a cotton bud or a small sterile needle. The feeling of “something in the eye” or pain may return after the anaesthetic drops wear off, usually between 20 minutes to an hour later. The pain usually lessens in a few days as your eye heals, but your eye may feel gritty for a few weeks. Anaesthetic drops cannot be prescribed to take home as regular use will slow down the healing of your eye. Pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (provided you have no medical reason which prevents you from using non-steroidal painkillers), are available over the counter at a chemist or on prescription and can be used to help with the pain.

Antibiotic drops or ointment may be prescribed to prevent infections from developing. Lubricants (artificial tear drops) are available on prescription or over the counter to help keep your eye comfortable while it heals. You may be asked to return for a follow-up appointment if there is any leftover foreign body or signs of infection/inflammation.

When to seek advice

If your eye becomes increasingly red or painful, your sight becomes more blurred or you see white patches getting bigger on the cornea, you should call Moorfields Direct for advice or go to your local A&E department. 

video transcript

Before putting in your eyedrops, first check that the drops are still in date.

If you were using a new bottle of eyedrops also check that the seal is not broken make sure you're putting the correct drops into the correct eye.

Let the correct time to instill your drops. Place a clean tissue on a flat surface wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water invert the bottle two or three times to ensure the contents are evenly mixed together.

Remove the lid and place it on the tissue tilt your head back, pull down your lower lid and form a small pocket. Make sure that the tip of the bottle does not come into contact with your skin or eyelashes as it might contaminate the drops.

Look up and gently squeeze the bottle so that a single drop falls into the pocket made by your lower lid.

Blink the drops in press lightly on the inner corner of your eye this enables more of the drop to be absorbed and not run away down your tear duct.

Wipe any excess fluid from your closed eyelids with a clean tissue.

Recap your drop bottle if you have more than one drop to instill. Wait at least 5 minutes before putting in another drop.

Wash your hands with soap and water to remove any traces of medication.

If you have any problems please contact our nurse led helpline service Moorfields Direct on 0207 566 2345

Author: Miss Melanie Hingorani, Dr Swan Kang

Review date: June 2026