The feeling of something in your eye, whether there’s anything there or not, can drive you up the wall. Plus, it’s sometimes accompanied by irritation, tearing, and even pain.
While there could be a foreign particle on the surface of your eye, such as an eyelash or dust, you can experience this sensation even if there’s nothing there.
Read on to learn more about what it could be and how to find relief.
Dry eyes are a common problem. It happens when your tears don’t keep the surface of your eye moist enough.
Every time you blink, you leave a thin film of tears over the surface of your eye. This helps keep your eyes healthy and your vision clear. But sometimes this thin film doesn’t function properly, resulting in dry eyes.
Dry eye can make you feel like there’s something in your eye and can cause excess tearing that’s followed by periods of dryness.
Other symptoms include:
- stinging or burning
Dry eye becomes more common as you age. Women are also more commonly affected than men, according to the National Eye Institute.
Many things can cause dry eyes, including:
- certain medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, and birth control pills
- seasonal allergies
- medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders and diabetes
- wind, smoke, or dry air
- periods of insufficient blinking, such as staring at a screen
If dry eyes are behind the feeling that something’s in your eye, try using over-the-counter lubricating eye drops. Once you get your symptoms under control, look over the medications you take and your screen time to see if they could be to blame.
A chalazion is a tiny, painless lump that develops on your eyelid. It’s caused by a blocked oil gland. You can develop one chalazion or multiple chalazia at a time.
A chalazion is often confused with an external or internal stye. An external stye is an infection of the eyelash follicle and sweat gland. An internal stye in an infection of an oil gland. Unlike chalazia, which are painless, styes usually cause pain.
Both styes and chalazia can cause swelling or a lump along the edge of the eyelid. When you blink, this can make it feel like there’s something in your eye.
Chalazia and styes usually clear up on their own within a few days. While you recover, apply a warm compress to your eye to help the area drain. A stye or chalazion that doesn’t rupture on its own may need to be treated with an antibiotic or drained surgically.
In addition to the sensation that there’s something in your eye, blepharitis can also cause:
- a gritty sensation in your eyes
- burning or stinging
- skin flaking
- eyelids that appear greasy
Keep the area clean and regularly apply a warm compress to the affected area to help drain the clogged gland.
If you aren’t noticing an improvement in your symptoms after a few days, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. You may need an antibiotic or steroid eye drops.
Conjunctivitis is the medical term for pink eye. It refers to inflammation of your conjunctiva, the tissue that lines the inner surface of your eyelid and covers the white part of your eye. The condition is very common, especially in children.
The inflammation caused by conjunctivitis can make it feel like there’s something in your eye.
Other conjunctivitis symptoms include:
- a gritty sensation
- burning or stinging
- excessive watering
If you have symptoms of conjunctivitis, apply a cool compress or damp, cool towel to your closed eye.
Conjunctivitis is often caused by a bacterial infection, which is contagious. You’ll likely need to follow up with your healthcare provider for antibiotics.
A corneal injury is any type of injury that affects your cornea, the clear dome that covers your eye’s iris and pupil. Injuries can include corneal abrasion (which is a scratch) or a corneal laceration (which is a cut). A corneal injury can cause vision problems and is considered serious.
Corneal abrasions can be caused by a foreign particle under your eyelid, poking your eye, or even vigorously rubbing your eyes. A corneal laceration is deeper and usually caused by being hit in the eye with significant force or something sharp.
An injury to your cornea can leave behind a lingering sensation that there’s something in your eye.
Other symptoms of a corneal injury include:
- blurred vision or loss of vision
Minor corneal injuries tend to heal on their own within a few days. In the meantime, you can apply a cold compress to your closed eyelid several times a day for relief.
If the injury is more severe, seek immediate treatment. Some corneal injuries can have a permanent effect on your vision without proper treatment. You may also need antibiotic or steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation and your risk of scarring.
A corneal ulcer is an open sore on your cornea that can be caused by different types of infections, including bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. When you blink, the ulcer can feel like an object stuck in your eye.
Corneal ulcers can also cause:
- severe pain
- blurred vision
- discharge or pus
- a white spot on your cornea
Your risk of developing a corneal ulcer increases if you wear contact lenses, have severe dry eyes or a corneal injury, or have a viral infection, such as chicken pox, shingles, or herpes.
Corneal ulcers require immediate treatment because they can cause permanent damage to your eye, including blindness. You’ll likely be prescribed antibacterial, antiviral, or antifungal eye drops. Drops to dilate your pupil may also be used to reduce the risk of complications.
Also known as ocular herpes, eye herpes is an infection of the eye caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are different types of eye herpes, depending on how deep into the layers of the cornea the infection extends.
Epithelial keratitis, which is the most common type, affects your cornea and can make it feel like there’s something in your eye.
Other symptoms include:
- eye pain
Any potential case of eye herpes warrants a visit to your healthcare provider. You may need antiviral medication or steroid eye drops.
It’s important to follow the prescribed treatment plan, as eye herpes can cause permanent damage to your eyes if left untreated.
Fungal keratitis is a rare fungal infection of the cornea. It’s caused by an overgrowth of fungi commonly found in the environment and on your skin.
According to the , an injury to the eye, especially with a plant or stick, is the most common way people develop fungal keratitis.
In addition to the feeling that there’s something in your eye, fungal keratitis can also cause:
- eye pain
- excessive tearing
- sensitivity to light
- blurred vision
Fungal keratitis requires antifungal medication, usually over the course of several months.
As you recover, applying a cold compress can help with the discomfort. You may also want to invest in a good pair of sunglasses to manage the increased sensitivity to light.
Pterygium is a harmless growth of the conjunctiva over the cornea. These growths are usually wedge-shaped and located on the inner corner or middle portion of your eye.
The cause of the condition is unknown, but it appears to be linked to exposure to sunlight, dust, and wind.
A pterygium can make it feel like there’s something in your eye, but it often doesn’t cause many other symptoms.
However, in some cases, you might also notice mild:
- blurred vision
A pterygium usually doesn’t require any treatment. But you might be given steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation if you have additional symptoms.
If the growth is very large and impacts your vision, you may need to have the growth surgically removed.
A pinguecula is a noncancerous growth on your conjunctiva. It’s typically a raised triangular, yellowish patch that develops on the side of your cornea. They often grow closer to the nose, but can grow on the other side. They become more common as you age.
A pinguecula can make it feel like there’s something in your eye.
It can also cause:
- vision problems
A pinguecula doesn’t require treatment unless it’s causing you discomfort. In this case, your healthcare provider might prescribe eye drops or an ointment for relief.
If it grows large enough to impact your vision, the pinguecula may need to be surgically removed.
There’s always a possibility that there is indeed something stuck in your eye, even if you can’t quite see it
You can try removing the object by:
- flushing the object out of your lower lid using artificial tear eye drops or saline solution as you hold your eyelid open
- using a damp cotton swab to gently tap the object, if you’re able to see it on the white part of your eye
If none of those techniques seem to do the trick, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. They can either safely remove the object or help you figure out what’s causing the sensation that there’s something in your eye.