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The gritty, stinging feeling of getting sand stuck in your eye can be quite uncomfortable. It can also cause other side effects, such as difficulty seeing and eye tearing.

Your eyes have a built-in system for flushing foreign objects out of them. Usually, your eyes will be able to take care of the grain of sand on its own, but it might take a little bit of patience. We’ll cover the symptoms of having sand in your eye, what to do about it, and when you need to see a doctor.

When you have something as small as a grain of sand in your eye, it might be hard to see it yourself. You may have to rely on your symptoms to figure out what’s going on. Symptoms of having sand or other small particles in your eye include:

  • eye pain
  • a desire to shut your eyes
  • blurry vision
  • excessive tearing
  • redness

When you have one or a few grains of sand in your eye, try to relax. Your eyes are most likely working to flush the sand out with your tears. First aid for sand in your eye involves just helping that process along.

1. Remove contact lenses

If you have a contact lens in your eyes, a grain of sand can become trapped underneath it. Wash your hands with soap and water before you carefully, and slowly, remove your contact lens from your eye.

2. Flush eyes with saline solution or water

Your natural tears might not provide enough lubrication to get the particles out of your eye. If this is happening, lie down, look up, and use an eyewash or saline solution to flush your eye. If you don’t have a saline solution available, you can also try clean, running water.

3. Lift your upper eyelid over your lower eyelid

The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that you can slowly (and with clean hands) lift your upper eyelid over your lower eyelid. The idea is that your eyelashes will provide a natural brush to sweep the sand out of your eye.

If your child gets sand in their eye, they might feel afraid or begin to panic. Sand in a child’s eye is typically not an emergency, either, and the steps for treatment are similar.

Instruct your child not to touch their eyes

Try to keep your child calm and remind them that rubbing their eye may cause pain or a scratch on their eye. If you’re able to, you might want to wash your child’s hands just in case they forget and rub their eye while it is still irritated.

Have your child lie down

Ask your child to lie down and close their eyes in a comfortable place, preferably a dark, calm room. Of course, when you’re at a sandy place like a beach or a park, that isn’t always possible. You can play a favorite song or offer comfort while your child waits for the grain of sand to be flushed out of their eye.

Eye wash or saline solution

Once you’ve cleaned your hands with soap and water, you can ask your child to tilt their head back, and you can gently open the affected eye. Apply several drops of saline solution or eye wash. This may work to dislodge and flush out any sand particles.

Getting sand in your eye isn’t typically an emergency. But there are some actions that will not help the situation and could even potentially make it worse.

Don’t rub your eye

Your instinct may be to rub your eye until you are able to get the sand to come out. Unfortunately, even a tiny particle of sand can scrape your eye and injure the outer layer of your eye. Avoid any type of rubbing until the particle is flushed out.

Don’t touch your eye with cotton swabs or tweezers

Don’t insert any type of foreign object, such as a cotton swab or tweezers, in your eye, especially if it’s sharp. Remember, you may not be seeing clearly at the moment due to having something in your eye.

Sand in your eye will usually resolve on its own. If it doesn’t, complications are a possibility.

Corneal abrasion

Sand and other small particles can end up scratching your cornea, which is the outer layer of your eye. This is called a corneal abrasion. A corneal abrasion doesn’t usually cause permanent eye damage and may heal on its own within 1 to 3 days. However, it can be painful, cause vision obstruction, and require medical attention to fully heal.

Infections and other complications

In rare cases, a grain of sand may scratch the cornea deeply and lead to an infection.

It’s unlikely, but the act of rubbing your eye or touching your eye with hands that haven’t been washed while trying to remove the sand particle can lead to an infection like conjunctivitis (pink eye).

Your symptoms should subside within an hour or so of getting sand, grit, or other small particles out of your eye. If your symptoms don’t go away, or if they get worse, you should see a medical professional.

Signs that you need to see an eye doctor or visit the emergency room may include:

  • vision that doesn’t return to normal after the particle is flushed out
  • continuing to feel like there is sand or grit in your eye even after it’s been flushed out
  • you are not able to open your eye
  • yellow or green pus comes out of your eye in the hours or days after you’ve had sand in your eye

Getting sand in your eye is not typically a medical emergency, even if you might feel desperate to remove it. The key to getting a grain of sand out of your eye is usually a little bit of patience and sometimes a good saline rinse.

If you’re not able to get a grain of sand out of your eye, or if it comes out and you continue to experience symptoms of pain and tearing, you need to contact an eye doctor or visit the emergency room.