Written and Medically Reviewed by Dr Leigh Plowman, Optometrist (updated Sept 2022)
Feels Like Something in My Eye
Ever felt like there’s something in your eye, but couldn’t find anything? It can drive you crazy.
Often, it’s accompanied by tears, irritation, itching, or pain. Sometimes called foreign body sensation, it means that there might feel like there is something there, but in most cases, there isn’t.
Ultimately, there could be something on the surface of the eye, such as dust or an eyelash, to cause the feeling like there is something there.
Find out what it could be, such as foreign body sensation and what you might do about it to get relief.
Dry eyes is a very common problem. It occurs when the normal coating of tears fail to stay in balance (a.k.a. homeostasis). This may mean that they don’t keep the surface of the eye moist enough.
Each time you blink, you leave a film of tears over the surface of the eye. That helps to keep the eyes healthy and ensure that you have clear vision.
However, that tear film might not function properly, which results in dry eyes.
Dry eye issues could make you feel like there is something in your eye. With that, you may experience excess tearing and periods of dryness.
Other symptoms can include:
- Eye redness
- Burning or stinging
Dry eye symptoms become more common as you age. Often, women are more affected than men.
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Common causes of dry eyes include:
- Ocular Rosacea
- Insufficient blinking when looking at a screen
- Wind, dry air, smoke
- Medical conditions (diabetes and thyroid disorders)
- Seasonal allergies
- Medications (decongestants, antihistamines, birth control pills)
If you experience dry eye and believe that this is the cause of feeling that something might be in the eye, try using non-preserved eye drops to lubricate them.
Your eye doctor (Optometrist or Ophthalmologist) can verify whether or not you have dry eyes. Then recommend treatment options that are right for you.
Chalazia or Stye
A chalazion is a pain-free, tiny lump that develops in the eyelid. It’s caused when you have a blocked oil gland. Some people develop multiple chalazia at once.
The chalazion is sometimes confused with an internal/external stye.
External styes are an infection of the sweat gland and eyelash follicle. Internal styes are an infection of the oil gland.
Unlike chalazia, which is pain-free, styes often cause pain or tenderness of the eyelid.
Both of these issues can cause a lump to form along the edge of your eyelid or may induce swelling at the site. As you blink, it might feel as though there’s something in your eye.
Warm compresses on the eyelid can help loosen debris inside the oil gland. However, you may need to see a doctor if it doesn’t dissipate on its own. You might require Intense Pulsed Light Therapy, oral antibiotics, steroid injections or an in-office procedure.
Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelid. Typically, it affects the lash lines of both eyelids, but it might only inflame one eyelid.
Generally, it is caused by overgrowth of natural skin bacteria (e.g. Staphylococcus Epidermidis) or mites (e.g. Demodex) within the eyelids.
In addition to the sensation of having something in your eye, blepharitis could also cause:
- Crusting of the eyelids
- Greasy-looking eyelids
- Skin flaking
- Eye redness
- Stinging or burning
- A gritty sensation in the eye or around the eyelid
To prevent blepharitis, you should keep the eye area clean. Common eyelid cleansers include hypochlorous acid sprays, tea tree cleansers, or okra-based products.
If you don’t notice an improvement in blepharitis symptoms within a few days, it’s best to talk to your eye doctor or health care provider. You might need steroid eye drops or an antibiotic.
Conjunctivitis is often called pink eye and refers to any inflammation in the conjunctiva.
The conjunctiva is a clear tissue that covers the white part of the eye and upper eyelid. Conjunctivitis is quite common, especially for children.
Typically, bacterial, allergic or viral conjunctivitis could make it feel like there could be something in your eye.
Other conjunctivitis symptoms can include:
- Excessive watering
- Stinging or burning
- A gritty sensation
If you have the symptoms of conjunctivitis, you could use a cool, damp towel or compress on the closed eye.
Typically, conjunctivitis is caused by a bacterial infection, and this makes it more contagious. Therefore, it’s best to go to an eye doctor for assessment and treatment.
A corneal injury includes any type of injury affecting the cornea. This is the clear dome covering the coloured part of the eye.
Injuries could include a corneal laceration (cut) or a corneal abrasion (scratch).
Commonly, a corneal abrasion is caused by a foreign particle under the upper eyelid, but you can get it from vigorously rubbing or poking the eye.
Lacerations are deeper and might be caused by getting hit in the eye with something sharp, especially when wearing a contact lens.
An injury to the cornea could leave behind a sensation that you have something in the eye. Other symptoms can include:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of vision
Minor injuries often heal within a few days on their own. Artificial tears can help lubricate your eyes better, and improve comfort. You could try cold compresses to the closed eyelid multiple times a day to get relief.
If you feel like you may have a corneal injury, see your eye doctor for the right treatments for you.
A corneal ulcer means that you’ve got an open sore on the cornea. An ulcer can be caused by many things, such as fungal, viral, and bacterial infections.
As you blink, the ulcer might give the feeling of having an object stuck in the eye.
You may also have:
- A white spot on the cornea
- Pus or discharge
- Blurred vision
- Extreme pain
- Light sensitivity
The risk of developing corneal ulcers increases if you have severe symptoms of dry eye, wear contact lenses, or have another viral infection, such as herpes, shingles, or chickenpox.
Many things can lead to corneal ulcers, and they require immediate treatment. Otherwise, you run the risk of damaging your eye. Your eye doctor may prescribe antiviral, antifungal, or antibacterial eye drops, depending on the cause. Drops that dilate the pupil can also be used for discomfort relief.
Eye herpes (ocular herpes) is an infection within the eye caused by HSV (herpes simplex virus). There are different types, depending on how deep the infection spreads into the cornea or ocular surface of the eye.
Epithelial keratitis is the most common, and it affects the cornea, giving the feeling that something is in the eye. Other symptoms can include:
- Inflammation or swelling
- Eye pain
If you think you might have eye herpes, it’s best to talk to a health provider immediately. There are various treatment options, and you might require eye drops or antiviral medication. With that, you should follow any prescribed treatment plan to prevent further problems.
Fungal keratitis is a fungal infection in the cornea that’s quite rare.
Any eye injury from a stick or plant could cause you to get fungal keratitis. You may get the feeling of something being in your eye, but it can also cause:
- Blurred vision
- Light sensitivity
- Excessive tearing
- Eye pain
- Inability to wear contact lenses
You may need anti-fungal medication for several months if you have this issue. Therefore, it’s best to see an eye doctor. With that, you should wear sunglasses to combat the light sensitivity.
Pterygium with Blurred Vision
Pterygium is a growth of the conjunctiva over your cornea. They are often wedge-shaped and found in the middle or corner of the eye. The cause of this condition is unknown, but it could be linked to exposure to wind, dust, or sunlight.
The pterygium could make you feel as though there’s something in the eye, but it doesn’t cause many other symptoms. Still, you might notice:
- Blurred vision
- Inability to put in a contact lens
Typically, pterygiums don’t require treatment. You might be told to use artificial tears to reduce friction and redness.
However, if you do experience symptoms, your eye doctor may check your vision to see if the growth impacts it. If so, it might need to be removed surgically.
A pinguecula is another type of noncancerous growth on the conjunctiva. Typically, it’s a raised, yellowish, triangular patch developing on the white of the eye. Usually, they grow close to the nose but might be on the other side and are more common as you age.
With a pinguecula, you may feel as though there’s something in the eye and experience:
- Vision problems
- Dry eye
In general, a pinguecula doesn’t require treatment unless you feel discomfort., Then, the health provider might prescribe artificial tears or ointment to get relief. Still, it could grow large and impact your vision, so it might require surgery to remove it.
There’s always the possibility that something is actually stuck in your eye, even though you can’t see it. Some specks of debris are around 0.3mm-0.1mm in size or smaller. In this case, the foreign body sensation is true.
You could try to remove the foreign bodies by:
- Flushing the foreign body out of the lower lid with artificial tears or saline solution while holding the eyelid open
- Using damp cotton swabs to gently tap on the foreign body in the eye
If those techniques don’t work, you should see your eye doctor. They could remove the foreign body safely from the eyelid or help you determine what’s causing that sensation.
What Does It Mean When You Feel Something in Your Eye, but Nothing’s There?
The foreign body sensation is what it’s called when nothing is in your eye, but you feel that there is. You may have an eyelash in there or experience dry eye all the time. Sometimes, the contact lenses you wear could irritate the eyelid, as well.
Typically, foreign body sensation causes eye discomfort and inflammation, which makes you wonder if there’s something wrong with your health.
How Do You Get Rid of a Foreign Body Sensation in Your Eye?
The first step to getting rid of foreign body sensation is to see an eye doctor or health professional. There could actually be something in the eye, and they can remove it so that you feel better.
However, if nothing is found, they could diagnose you with something that could be treated easily with better eyelid hygiene.
There could be other causes of foreign body sensation and not something that must be removed.
For example, you may have a scratch on the eye from a contact lens, misdirected eyelashes, or eyeball irritation that comes from the environment in which you work or live.
Typically, your doctor can help with a diagnosis by checking your head, eyeball, and other areas around the eyes. With that, they may find that irritation is the primary concern.
You can be prescribed eye drops and other methods that could help you feel better.
What Are the Symptoms of Something in Your Eye?
There are many symptoms that you’ve got something in your eye. These can include:
- Pain when looking at light
- Bloodshot eyes
- Excessive blinking
- Extreme tearing
- Dry eye
- Feeling of discomfort or pressure
- The sensation that something is there
You may have just one symptom or many of them. Regardless, it doesn’t mean that your health is poorly affected. It just indicates that you might need to see an eye professional for a diagnosis.
Why Do I Feel Like There Is a Worm in My Eye?
Many people feel that there’s a worm in their eye, and it could be caused by many things. Our eyes are one of the most sensitive parts of our body. With that, eyelashes might have gotten into the eye and move around while you blink.
Unfortunately, if you feel that there are bugs crawling on your eyes, you may actually have a worm infestation. Tiny worms can get onto the surface of the eye.
Called loiasis, non-painful and itchy swellings of the body could pop up anywhere. From there, they could cause eye worms to develop, and you may also have them under the skin.
Since this is a parasitic infection, removing the worm isn’t likely to cure it. You need special medication to kill the parasites in the body.
Everyone experiences foreign body sensation in some form or another. This sensation helps to make you aware that something is not quite right in your eye.
If you’ve done at-home treatments already for your foreign body sensation and they haven’t worked, it might be time to call an eye doctor. He or she can provide the right diagnosis based on the symptom issues you have.
Your doctor can speed up the process of finding the cause of your ‘feels like something in my eye’ sensation. Then get you on the trick track to relief.