Teach Me

Got Something in Your Eye? Relief Is Only a Blink Away

Eyes are powerful — and powerfully sensitive. If you’ve ever gotten something stuck in your eye, then you know just how sensitive they can be. Even common household items like sunscreen, dish soap, pepper juices and hairspray can be really uncomfortable.

If you or someone you know is in this situation, don’t fret. Whether it’s an eyelash, shampoo or even household cleaner, the process of rinsing them from your eye is usually always the same, no matter the material. Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a poison education specialist at Banner Poison & Drug Information Center, walks us through how to treat this issue by following these simple tips.

Cleaning the eye

First off, don’t panic. Although it can be irritating and painful, patience is key to rinsing your eyes effectively. In most cases, relief is just 15-30 minutes away.

  1. Run the faucet/shower: Let the tap water do most of the work here. Turn on the faucet or shower, and make sure it’s running at a mild temperature.
  2. Wash the eye: Let the tap water irrigate the affected eye for a full 15 minutes. (It may be easier to just stand in the shower, rather than kneeling over a sink.) Don’t rub or scrub the eye — just blink often as the water rolls gently over your face. Dr. Kuhn assured that “tap water is perfectly effective for irrigation. Don’t use another liquid, like milk, to ‘neutralize’ the irritant.” He explained that other liquids can create heat on the eye that might result in a burn. You don’t want that.
  3. Lay down: After you’ve irrigated the eye for 15 minutes — that full 15 minutes is important; no shortcuts — then lay down, close the eye, and place a cold compress like a wet towel on the closed eye for 20 minutes.
  4. Assess symptoms: After the cold compress, how does the eye feel? For example, does it feel like there’s a grain of sand in there when blinking? Is it too hard to open the eye because of brightness or pain? Is vision out of the affected eye a lot blurrier than the other eye? If these symptoms are present, repeat steps 1-3. And if the symptoms are still present after repeating these steps, then it’s time to visit the doctor.

Things to remember

  1. Pain is helpful: Your body is telling you something. (A little) pain can be very useful! Continued pain is a good reason to consult a medical professional.
  2. Most irritants require the same process: Certain chemicals are more harmful to the eye. These chemicals are called “caustics,” and have acids below pH 4 or bases above pH 10. Some common caustics are ear wax removal products, muriatic or hydrochloric acid (used in pools), and Drano. CLR or other heavy-duty house cleaners can also be harmful, but not to the same level as caustics. Regardless, you’ll always want to follow the irrigation steps outlined above.
  3. With children, pay attention: Kids often struggle to explain their symptoms — especially when it’s related to childhood vision problems — but their actions will often speak for them. If, for example, they continue to rub their eyes, they may require more aid. If they’re back to using your iPad, then they’re probably fine.
  4. Be patient: Most of the time, eye irritant issues will linger simply because there hasn’t been enough irrigation. Patiently follow the steps outlined above, and the eye will likely be just fine.

Practice safe habits

It’s easy to forget how sensitive our eyes really are. Safe habits can keep you from having to experience this pain again. For example, wear eye protection when operating machinery like weedwhackers or saws. Avoid rubbing your eyes or touching your face when cleaning the house, preparing a meal or working with plants. Make sure to frequently wash your hands. A little common-sense prevention goes a long way.

Need additional help

When in doubt, call the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center at (800) 222-1222 for additional advice. This will connect you to your local poison and drug information center, no matter where you’re located in the United States. You’ll speak with a nurse or poison information provider who’s been specially trained. Assistance is available in more than 150 languages.

Whatever your situation, eyes are a tricky organ — and when yours aren’t working properly, it’s natural to feel nervous. Check out these useful articles about eye care, written with help from Banner Health experts.

Eye Care Emergency Poison Prevention Urgent Care