Letters to the Editor

Missed Subtarsal Foreign Body in Patient Presenting with Ocular Injury


Am Fam Physician. 2005 May 15;71(10).

to the editor: We read with interest the article, “Management of Corneal Abrasions” by Drs. Wilson and Last1 in American Family Physician. We would like to highlight the importance of looking for subtarsal foreign bodies in relevant cases of eye injury.

A 25-year-old man attended the emergency department after molten metal splashed into his right eye. His eyes had been irrigated at his workplace. The emergency department physician examined his eyes and could not find any obvious foreign body. When the patient still had pain and foreign body sensation in his right eye, orbital radiographs were taken, which showed a small, round, radio-opaque shadow in the right orbit consistent with a metallic foreign body (Figure 1). The exact location of the foreign body could not be determined, so the patient was referred to the on-call ophthalmologist.

View/Print Figure

Figure 1.

Orbital radiograph showing a radio-opaque shadow in the right orbit.

Figure 1.

Orbital radiograph showing a radio-opaque shadow in the right orbit.

On ocular examination, the patient’s visual acuities were 20/20 (unaided) in both eyes. Slit lamp examination showed mild medial conjunctival congestion in the right eye. No abnormalities of the conjunctiva or cornea were seen on fluorescein staining, and there was no entry wound. Eversion of the right upper eyelid showed a subtarsal metallic foreign body. The rest of the ocular examination was unremarkable. The subtarsal foreign body (Figure 2) was removed under topical anesthesia, and the patient was discharged with a prescription for topical antibiotics.

View/Print Figure

Figure 2.

Subtarsal metallic foreign body.

Figure 2.

Subtarsal metallic foreign body.

Eye injuries from foreign bodies remain one of the most common presentations to the emergency department. Eversion of the upper eyelids to rule out subtarsal foreign bodies is an essential part of ocular examination in all patients with a history of eye injuries. In our patient, the subtarsal foreign body was overlooked because eyelid eversion was not performed. Failing to do this simple technique may result not only in performing unnecessary investigations, but, more importantly, in subtarsal foreign bodies going undetected, which can lead to complications such as persistent grittiness, corneal abrasions, recurrent traumatic keratitis,2 and granuloma formation.3

A review article4 showed that most orbital radiographs are performed needlessly. They suggested restricting radiologic investigations to patients with clinical evidence of penetrating ocular or orbital trauma, or a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

Newman5 reported that an eyelid foreign body may mimic an intraocular foreign body on plain radiography, which was the case in our patient.

This case report demonstrates the importance of examination by upper-eyelid eversion in patients who present with a history of ocular injury or grittiness and a foreign body sensation in the eye. This simple technique may prevent complications caused by missed subtarsal foreign bodies such as corneal abrasions and infections, and also avoid unnecessary imaging studies.


show all references

1. Wilson SA, Last A. Management of corneal abrasions. Am Fam Physician 2004;70:123-8....

2. Popa DP, Nuta M, Ionica V, Tajjar M. Recurrent traumatic keratitis due to an overlooked conjunctival foreign body [Romanian]. Oftalmologia 1990;34:59-61.

3. Ainbinder DJ, O’Neill KP, Yagci A, Karcioglu ZA. Conjunctival mass formation with unexpected foreign body. J Pediatr Ophthalmol Strabismus 1991;28:176-7.

4. Bray LC, Griffiths PG. The value of plain radiography in suspected intraocular foreign body. Eye 1991;5:751-4.

5. Newman DK. Eyelid foreign body mimics an intraocular foreign body on plain orbital radiography. Am J Emerg Med 1999;17:283-4.

Send letters to afplet@aafp.org, or 11400 Tomahawk Creek Pkwy., Leawood, KS 66211-2680. Include your complete address, e-mail address, and telephone number. Letters should be fewer than 400 words and limited to six references, one table or figure, and three authors.

Letters submitted for publication in AFP must not be submitted to any other publication. Possible conflicts of interest must be disclosed at time of submission. Submission of a letter will be construed as granting the AAFP permission to publish the letter in any of its publications in any form. The editors may edit letters to meet style and space requirements.

This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions


May 2022

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article