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“What Happens If A Piece of Metal Gets Inside My Eye”

Posted on July 27, 2012 · Posted in Eye Health, Surgery

A patient asked an excellent question the other day that I thought would make a great blog post:  “What happens if a piece of metal gets inside the eye?”  Interestingly, this patient had come in on an emergency basis for a piece of metal that had fallen into his eye about an hour earlier while working under a car.  I’d estimate that foreign bodies are one of the Top 3 reasons for emergency visits to FirstView so it seemed like a great topic to discuss.

First, let’s define a foreign body as anything that originates from outside the body.  Examples of common eye offenders would be pieces of metal, wood, and plastic.

Removal of metallic foreign body with sterile needle tip

A low-impact eye injury involving materials such as these often results in the object coming to rest within or upon the cornea (clear center part of eye that light passes through) or conjunctiva (clear tissue that lines the white of the eye and the undersides of the eyelids).  Most commonly, foreign bodies like these produce irritation, redness, and discomfort until removed under topical anesthesia in office.  Topical medication can often be needed after removal to prevent infection and/or inflammation, but patients are typically discomfort-free shortly after the procedure.

A higher-impact injury increases the risk that the foreign body can penetrate the outer surfaces of the eye and actually come to rest inside.  Naturally, this is a more complicated situation as determinations needs to be made about what the foreign material is, where it is located, what internal structures have been damaged or are at risk for damage, the proper surgical technique required for removal, and even whether or not removal is warranted.

“Warranted?!  I have a piece of metal inside my eye!”  Understand that surgery inside the eye carries significantly more risk that surgery outside.  Doctors often have to weigh the potential benefits of removal versus the risks involved and, occasionally, a foreign body inside the eye will be monitored over time for complications rather than removed.  Topical and systemic medications are often required for any foreign material inside the eye.

One thing is certain whether the foreign body is inside or outside the eye: you need to see an eye doctor ASAP.