You are at the beach when a gust of wind blows sand into your eye. Your eye is immediately tearing and irritated. The next steps you should take include flushing the eye with water and planning a visit to your eye doctor for careful inspection. Retained sand in the eye can lead to abrasions, infections, inflammation and scarring. Attempts to remove retained sand by yourself can cause further injury. Success depends on proper medical evaluation and treatment.
Irrigate the Eye
When you feel sand go into your eye, flush the eye copiously with water. If you normally wear contact lenses, remove your contact and leave it out. Never rub your eye in an attempt to dislodge sand or another material. Rubbing can lead to scratching of the cornea -- the clear part at the front of your eye. Even if your eye feels better after flushing it with water or you look in a mirror and do not see any sand, visiting your eye doctor as soon as possible is still important. Retained material in the eye may not cause symptoms initially and can only be seen by a doctor.
Components of sand include glass and metal. If metal is stuck in the eye, particularly the cornea, it can leave a rust ring, which also has to be removed. The doctor must do this carefully with a special instrument to avoid corneal scarring. Never attempt to remove a speck on your eye by yourself. You will likely cause an abrasion and increase the infection risk. Excellent magnification, special instruments and proper lighting are needed to remove material trapped in the eye, and only an eye care specialist has access to these instruments and tools.
Visit the Doctor
At the beginning or your exam, your eye doctor will check your vision and make a careful inspection of the eye under a bright lamp. She will look under the upper lid and the pockets of the lids, both of which can be hiding places for foreign material, such as sand. She will check the cornea for scratches by putting a special dye in the eye. Not all foreign bodies are visible even to an eye doctor -- for example, glass pieces in sand or insect hairs. Therefore, the doctor may flush the eye repeatedly with saline to ensure nothing is trapped.
Sand may contain plant material or other contaminants that can cause an eye infection, especially if the eye was scratched. This is why your doctor will typically treat you with a course of topical antibiotic drops after any foreign material has been in the eye. Take the full course of antibiotics and return for a follow-up visit. Of course, the best way to prevent sand from entering the eye is to protect them. On a particularly windy day, wear sunglasses or a hat to decrease potential exposure.