Ocular foreign body

(Redirected from Corneal foreign body)


  • Ocular foreign bodies are a high-risk chief complaint because of short and long-term threats to vision loss. The main goal is to determine superficial vs. intraocular foreign bodies.
  • Always consider possibility of multiple foreign bodies
  • Common materials based on inflammatory reactions
    • Highest inflammatory response - wood, copper, iron, steel
    • Moderate reaction - aluminum, mercury, nickel, zinc
    • Inert - glass, lead, plastic, porcelain

Foreign Body Types

Clinical Features

A small piece of iron lodged near corneal margin.
  • Patient history with focus on circumstances/mechanism of symptom onset
    • e.g. use of power tools, projectile weapons, MVCs, metal-on-metal impacts, or high-impact trauma
    • Most common is metal foreign body from hammering

Superficial (embedded in conjunctiva or cornea)


  • As above, although may additionally be asymptomatic initially and present after complications arise (e.g. corneal ulcer)
  • +Seidel's sign: streaming of fluorescein out of eye

Differential Diagnosis

Orbital trauma



Unilateral red eye

^Emergent diagnoses ^^Critical diagnoses


Based on patient mechanism/history

  • Possible high impact metal (e.g. hammering, use power tools, projectile weapons, metal-on-metal impacts, or high-impact trauma)
  • Non-high impact metal history (vegetation, dirt, dust)



Superficial ocular foreign body with no signs of open globe injury

  • Conjunctival foreign body
    • ED removal after topical anesthetic
      • Copious irrigation
      • Cotton-tipped swab soaked in saline
  • Rust ring
    • Metallic foreign bodies can create rust rings that are toxic to corneal tissue
    • Foreign body be removed with a 30- to 25-gauge needle as below
    • Rust rings overlying the visual axis, however, should be managed by an ophthalmologist due to the risk of scarring in the visual field.
    • Rust also often reaccumulates by the next day requiring additional burring. It is therefore not necessary to remove a rust ring in the emergency department if the patient can be seen by an ophthalmologist the next day. Additionally, once the foreign body is removed, the rust ring area softens overnight and can be more easily removed in the office the next day.
  • Corneal foreign body
    • ED removal after topical anesthetic
    • May attempt irrigation and/or cotton-swab as above
    • 30- to 25-gauge needle under slit lamp
      • Approach from tangential angle
    • Repeat Seidel test to ensure removal did not perforate cornea
    • Irrigate eye profusely post-removal
    • Consider cycloplegics (e.g. cyclopentolate or homatropine) for significant photophobia
    • Consider topical antibiotics for corneal involvement

Does Not Wear Contact Lens

Wears Contact Lens

Antibiotics should cover pseudomonas and favor 3rd or 4th generation fluoroquinolones

  • Levofloxacin 0.5% solution 2 drops ever 2 hours for 2 days THEN q6hrs for 5 days OR
  • Moxifloxacin 0.5% solution 2 drops every 2 hours for 2 days THEN q6hrs for 5 days OR
  • Tobramycin 0.3% solution 2 drops q6hrs for 5 days OR
  • Gatifloxacin 0.5% solution 2 drops every 2 hours for 2 days THEN q6hrs for 5 days OR
  • Gentamicin 0.3% solution 2 drops six times for 5 days

Intraocular foreign bodies or concern for open globe injury


Outpatient Ophthalmology Follow-up

  • Superficial ocular foreign body after removal
    • Ophtho follow up in 48h for routine cases
    • Ophtho follow up in 24h for rust ring removal (rust ring will migrate more and more superficially over time making later removal by ophtho easier)


  • With emergent surgical intervention for:

See Also

External Links


  1. Babineau MR, Sanchez LD, Ophthalmologic procedures in the emergency department Emerg Med Clin Am 2008 26.1:17-34.