7 Causes of a Foreign Body Sensation In Your Eye [AND HOW TO FIX IT]
Have you ever felt like something was in your eye, scratching it and causing irritation? If you know this feeling, then you've experienced a foreign body sensation.
What is a Foreign Body Sensation in Your Eyes?
A foreign body sensation is the feeling that you have something in your eye, whether or not there is something there. It is not a disease but merely a symptom of something else going on. This is often a big reason why people visit the eye doctor, and there are many causes for this symptom.
7 Causes of a Foreign Body Sensation in Your Eyes
1. There’s actually something in your eye
The most common cause of a foreign body sensation is that you actually have something in your eye. This could be something you can see with your naked eye, such as an eyelash, or it could be something like dust or sand. With any sudden foreign body sensation, you should head to your eye doctor for an examination. If they can see that you do have something in your eye, they can remove it for you. There are so many things that could actually be in your eye, including an eyelash, sand, or even metal, that it’s important to have an examination to rule this out.
2. Dry eye disease
Sometimes, there is nothing to be seen in your eye. However, this foreign body sensation may be a feeling you experience often. If it’s also accompanied by other dry eye symptoms, such as irritation, dryness, burning, or redness of the eyes, you may have dry eye disease. Either way, it’s important to have an examination to be properly diagnosed. Dry eye disease affects over 30 million Americans, so this is not an uncommon condition to be experiencing. Learn more about the many causes of dry eye disease here.
Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelids, and this may include the front portion of the eyelids where the eyelashes reside as well as the posterior portion of the eyelids where the meibomian glands are housed. No matter the form, blepharitis and the inflammation that comes with it can spill over onto the eyes and cause irritation. Those with blepharitis may notice flaky eyelashes or dry skin of the eyelids, redness of the eyes and eyelid margins, and overall discomfort. Some itchiness may be present as well. Blepharitis is a very common condition, and it’s one that can be treated well with eyelid hygiene, which we’ll discuss in a bit.
4. Stye or Chalazion
A stye is an infection of the eyelid which resembles a pimple on the lid. A chalazion is similar, but it is usually painless. Both are caused by blocked oil glands of the eyelids, so it’s common to see these in people who suffer from blepharitis and any dysfunction of the meibomian glands. These conditions can cause the eyelids to swell and lead to irritation of the eyes and eyelids. If you have a stye, you may notice pain of the eyelid as well as a bump or swelling in the area. The same is true for chalazia, but these tend to be painless and are usually not red or inflamed.
Conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the conjunctiva, has many causes. The conjunctiva is the clear covering over the front of the eyeball, and it can become easily inflamed through bacterial infections, viral infections (what we know as “pink eye”), and allergies, most commonly. Any inflammation of the conjunctiva will usually cause a foreign body sensation and redness over the white part of the eye. If you’re unsure whether or not you have conjunctivitis, it’s best to visit your eye doctor to be properly diagnosed. They can help tell you if you’re contagious, as with viral conjunctivitis, or if you need to fight allergies or a bacterial overload.
Incredibly common in contact lens wearers, keratitis is inflammation of the cornea (the clear dome on the front of the eye). Any condition which affects the cornea may lead to foreign body sensation. If you’re suffering from any form of keratitis, or even a corneal ulcer or abrasion, you’ll likely notice extreme pain along with the foreign body sensation. The cornea is one of the most sensitive parts of your entire body and it’s densely innervated. Any issue with the cornea will cause irritation or pain, redness of the eyeball, and sometimes blurred vision.
7. Pinguecula or Pterygium
These two are harmless conditions of the conjunctiva, but they can cause foreign body sensation and they’re definitely common in certain parts of the world. For both, UV exposure and exposure to the elements in general are known causes. A pinguecula is a growth on the conjunctiva, and you’ll notice this as a raised, yellow patch that may show up on either side of the cornea (more often nasally). A pterygium is more serious, because this conjunctival growth can begin to grow onto and over the cornea. When this happens, vision can become affected. Because these conditions are raised, they can often become irritated.
How Do You Get Rid of a Foreign Body Feeling in Your Eye?
Some of the above conditions can cause permanent damage to your eyes and vision if not treated in a timely manner, so this shows the importance of heading to your eye doctor with any new foreign body sensation. Your doctor will examine your eyes and give you a diagnosis and treatment plan that fits your particular diagnosis. Here, we’ll discuss a few of the likely treatment options you’ll encounter if you notice a foreign body sensation.
Have the Foreign Body Removed By Your Doctor
First of all, if you have something in your eye, your doctor is going to either flush out the foreign body or they’ll manually remove it. For example, if you have a piece of metal in your eye, your doctor will numb your eyes and use a small spud or needle to work the metal piece out of your cornea, conjunctiva, or eyelid. In some cases, especially if the foreign body has left a ring of rust on your cornea, they may use a rotating brush to remove any extra rust and allow the cornea to heal more effectively. You’ll likely receive antibiotics and be seen again the next day.
If you don’t have a foreign body in your eye, the following routine may be beneficial for you (and especially for those with dry eye disease, blepharitis, styes, or if you’re prone to conjunctivitis or keratitis):
Thoroughly Remove Eye Makeup and Wash Your Face
This should be done every single night. We recommend using an oil-based eye makeup remover and tea tree soap to treat demodex and blepharitis issues. You’d be surprised what a difference this can make in how comfortable your eyes are.
Use a Warm Compress
If you’re suffering from dry eyes, blepharitis, or a stye, a warm compress can be very beneficial. Especially for those with a stye, a warm compress can help heat up the oil in the affected gland. By doing this, you may help the stye drain by itself. We never recommend popping a stye or chalazion, but warm compresses can be incredibly soothing and beneficial. Simply place a warm compress eye maskinto the microwave for 20 seconds, and then place it over your closed eyelids for 10-20 minutes (reheating as necessary).
Practice Eyelid Hygiene
Just like you brush your teeth every single day, twice per day to prevent cavities, you should be cleansing your eyelids to prevent future eye issues. This may include dry eye disease, blepharitis, meibomian gland issues, and more. We recommend using a hypochlorous acid cleanser twice daily. Simply spray the solution onto your closed eyelids, rub it in, and let it dry. It’s that simple, and very effective.
Antibiotics or Anti-Allergy Eye Drops
If your doctor finds that you have bacterial conjunctivitis, if you have a corneal infection, or if you have an abrasion, you will likely be given a prescription for topical antibiotics. Use these exactly as your eye doctor has prescribed them, and make sure they’re planning to see you back in a timely manner. For those who suffer from allergies, over-the-counter allergy eye drops can be very effective at reducing irritation, itch, swelling, and redness. We love Pataday Once Daily Relieffor our patients.
We don’t recommend artificial tears often, but they can be beneficial for those with a pinguecula or pterygium. Keeping the eyes moist and wearing UV protected sunglasses are the most effective ways to prevent irritation and progression of these conditions. Oasis Tears Plus PFis a great option, because it is preservative free. Occasionally, an inflamed pterygium or pinguecula may benefit from a short course of topical steroid eye drops, and these can be prescribed by your eye doctor if that situation arises.
FAQs about Foreign Body Sensation
Which may cause a foreign body sensation in the eye?
Many things can cause a foreign body sensation. First of all, if you have something in your eye, you will notice this sensation. This could be an eyelash, dust, sand, or even a piece of metal. Dry eye disease and blepharitis are two of the most common conditions to contribute to this sensation, and a stye, conjunctivitis, keratitis, and growths on the front of the eye all cause foreign body sensation.
How do you get rid of a foreign body feeling in your eye?
First, see your eye doctor. If there’s something in your eye, they can remove it for you and you’ll feel better quickly. If they find nothing in your eye, they may be able to diagnose you with something else that can be easily treated with eyelid hygiene, specific eye drops, or another remedy.
Why do I feel like there is something in my eye?
This is known as foreign body sensation, which is the feeling of having something in your eye. You may, in fact, have something in your eye (such as an eyelash, sand, dust, or a small foreign object), but this sensation can occur without that as well. Any form of inflammation on the front surface of the eye has the ability to cause a foreign body sensation because, with inflammation, there is swelling, there may be dry patches, or you may have an infection that your eyelids are constantly running across.
What do I do if I feel something in my eye?
The best course of action is to see your eye doctor. When you have a foreign body sensation and there is pain and redness involved, most eye doctors will see you the same day you call them. Seeing your doctor is the only way you can truly know the cause, because they can use a microscope to diagnose exactly what’s going on with your eyes.
Can eye drops help get something out of your eye?
Occasionally, a foreign body sensation can be alleviated by washing the eyes out with non preserved saline or artificial tears. However, it is best to see your eye doctor if the problem persists.
How do you remove grit from your eye?
If you feel like you have something in your eye, but you do not remember anything flying into it, rinse your eyes with preservative free saline or preservative free artificial tears. If the problem persists, see your eye doctor to make sure it’s not something that needs to be manually removed in their office. It is common for foreign bodies or objects to fly into the eyes, and this may include everything from dust and sand to metal or another substance you’re working with.