There are few things as unpleasant as sustaining some insult or injury to our precious eyes. Whether it’s an eye gnat, soap, or even some dust, no one wants anything in their eyes that shouldn’t be there. And if it's something that happens to not want to come out, no matter how many eye drops you rinse with? That's the worst of the worst. So it really helps to know the doctor-approved thing to do if something's really stuck in your eye — and the one thing a doctor says never to do.
Dr. Ming Wang of the Wang Vision 3D Cataract and LASIK Center tells Bustle via email that the cornea of the eye, which is exposed to the air and environment, is one of the most pain-sensitive areas of the body — “because it has a very superficial [...] nerve system.” Meaning that, said nerve system is close to the surface of the eye, so if you get some tea tree oil soap in there (it happened to me, folks) it can really hurt like hell.
While some objects make their way in and out of our eyes with relative ease — like eyelashes, for instance — there are some objects that can cause some pretty serious eye infections or injuries. "The worst things to get stuck in the eye are organic matter such as bark, small twigs, soil," says Dr. Wang, as these things can lead to fungal infection. I'm sorry, what? Basically, it’s very important to know when it works to attend to the eye invader yourself, or if it would be a better idea to seek out a doctor for some assistance.
According to Dr. Wang, the anatomy of our eyes can predispose them to attracting irritants and foreign objects; this is because the cornea (the clear dome that covers the front of the eye), and the sclera and conjunctiva (the whites of the eyes) have a sticky surface. Once an object lands in there, it usually gets pulled down and lodged deeper in the lower eyelid. Generally, our tears will usually wash out the affected eye, but in some cases you might need eye treatments to get the irritant out.
Dr. Wang suggests that the best thing to do if you get something stuck in your eye is to “rinse the eye and the space between the eye and eyelids with sterile saline or over-the-counter tear drops,” to wash the substance out. If you don’t have these products on hand, you can try flushing the eye with some plain tap water in an emergency. If the object is trapped in the lower or upper eyelid, gently pull on the eyelid to create a small pocket, and then rinse. Healthline notes that the most common eye irritants include eyelashes, makeup, sand, and dirt, and these can usually be flushed out pretty easily at home.
While flushing out common eye irritants is, generally, pretty straightforward, there are some things you should never do. Dr. Wang says that it's super, super important to never try to dislodge an irritant from your eye with your finger or other object — always rinse. Trying to get an object out of your eye with your finger can cause it to either scratch your eye or eyelid, and or it can also push the irritant deeper into the eye.
But if flushing the area with water isn’t working, or if the object is out but you’re in a lot of pain, it’s time to skedaddle to your doctor in order to avoid any further injuries, infections, or complications. And remember, if you can’t get the object out of your eye via flushing with saline, natural tear drops, or water, seek out the care of an eye doctor for removal of the little offending invader, stat.