What is a Rust Ring and How Do You Remove It?

Have I mentioned before that I hate treating ophthalmology problems? Well, that and testicular diagnoses. In each case, the patient only has two of the particular body part and the stakes are, needless to say, high when it comes to getting the right diagnosis. Diagnosing and treating eye related problems doesn’t give me quite the amount of anxiety it once did now that I am more seasoned in my practice. So, I do enjoy treating the occasional ocular foreign body- as long as I can successfully remove it, that is.

When it comes to eye health, it’s important that we as nurse practitioners and physician assistants have a solid foundation in our diagnostic and exam skills. Eye problems can range from simple infections and irritation to vision-threatening complications. Today, let’s talk corneal foreign bodies and rust rings.

What is a Corneal Foreign Body?

Small particles that make contact with the eye may become embedded in the cornea. this is commonly seen, for example, when metallic fragments fly into the eyes of construction workers or welders.

Foreign bodies in the eye result in abrasions to the cornea and are quite painful and irritating. Symptoms include redness, tearing, a foreign body sensation, pain, and/or blurred vision.

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How Do You Remove a Corneal Foreign Body?

To examen a patient with a suspected corneal foreign body, and remove the offending particle follow these steps:

  1. Apply anesthetic drops such as proparacaine to the affected eye.
  2. Check the patient’s visual acuity.
  3. Visualize the foreign body using a penlight. Don’t forget to check for foreign bodies under the eyelid by everting them completely. Remember, just because you see one foreign body does not mean there isn’t another.
  4. Attempt to remove the foreign body by flushing the eye with normal saline.
  5. If removal by flushing the eye is unsuccessful, then attempt removal using a moist cotton swab.
  6. For more adherent foreign bodies, removal with an 18 to 30 gauge needle can be attempted. Don’t do this unless you are experienced. Bracing your hand against the patient’s face and using a slit lamp to guide you, flick the foreign body out of the eye with the needle. A dental burr can also be used to remove a foreign body from the eye however many ophthalmologists caution against this method due to the potential to cause significant damage to the eye.
  7. Re-examen the eye, possibly even with fluorescein stain to make sure you have completely removed the foreign body.
  8. If you are unable to remove the foreign body, patch the eye and refer the patient, ideally the same day, to an ophthalmologist.
  9. Don’t forget to update the patient’s tetanus immunization if necessary.

What is a Rust Ring?

A rust ring may form around foreign bodies that contain iron, typically those that are metallic. The salt in tears interacts with the iron in the metal forming rust in the eye just like you see with metal left outdoors in the elements. The reaction begins within 2 to 4 hours of the foreign body embedding in the eye. Complete rust ring formation can be after about 8 hours. The rust ring may persist even after the foreign body is removed leaving a stain on the cornea. Many times the residual rust will migrate to the surface of the eye itself, usually within 24 hours. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends against attempting to remove a residual rust ring due to the possibility of doing further damage to the eye. 

How Do You Remove a Rust Ring?

While most ophthalmologists recommend that you leave rust ring removal to the experts, some experienced healthcare providers still take on the task themselves. Rust rings are removed using a rotating, sterile burr. These are available in most emergency departments. Here’s what the procedure looks like:

Again, rust ring removal should only be performed by an experienced provider as it carries a risk for complications including vision loss. 

To Patch or Not to Patch? Corneal Foreign Body Discharge Care

If you have successfully removed a foreign body from the patient’s eye, applying a patch is not necessary. There is no evidence showing that applying a patch speeds healing. In fact, patching may even do more harm than good. Make sure to prescribe prophylactic antibiotic drops or ointment to prevent infection. Corneal foreign bodies can be quite painful and some patients may require a prescription for narcotic pain relievers. Contact lens wearers should switch to glasses until healing of the eye is complete. Patients should follow up within 24 hours, ideally with an ophthalmologist, to monitor for proper ocular healing.


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7 thoughts on “What is a Rust Ring and How Do You Remove It?”

  1. I came down with a rust ring infection in 1974 ,after being struck in the right eye by a iron bb, that was hurled from a machine at work , called a wheela brator. This machine was used in a foundry, to blast metal slag off of newly formed engine blocks,at international harvester. The result was a bb, that had to be ground down to nothing! It was not painful, believe it or not, but, very very scary, as I could not dare blink lest the grinder damage or destroy my sight! This is what the doctor told me, a scared 19 year old kid! As bad as that was, the rust ring infection that resulted from the object being in my eye for about 2 hours, was far worse. For about a week, I endured many things that the Dr. tried and failed, to cure this terrible condition. He even tried a blow dryer! Thank God for a Dr. in calif, who suggested a radical treatment! He had the Dr. draw blood from me, and spin it down in a centrifuge,seperating the plasma or antibodies, from the blood,and then putting the plasma in a sterile eye dropper bottle like a clear eyes type,and then apply several drops in each eye three times a day. It was like magic! In forty-eight hours, there was no trace of the infection! That was in 1974. In 1984, I came down with a case of pink -eye. This time I went to a local lab and had them do this same thing with my blood and low and behold, in 24 hours, no trace of pink-eye! This method will work on any topical condition! I asked many Doctors about this, and every one of them said the same thing. that they had never heard of it, and that it sounded un sanitary, and that they would not order such a thing as that to be performed on anyone! Imagine that! How dare anyone put their own antibodies on their own bodies! You can draw your own conclusions from this true story,as for me,I predict that one day, all topical illnesses will be treated with this method, when the doctors can figure out how to justify a high cost for such a low cost method! The last time I did this, the total cost was 100.00!

  2. I was grinding and a piece of metal went into my eye about 2 weeks ago.Ihad my wife look into my eye and there was no trace of a rust ring,however my eye waters a lot and still feels like something is in it.Could I have scratched the eye bad enough to still be watery or for that matter still feel like something is in there?Please help I don’t want to lose my eye.

  3. I was taught to assess visual acuity in advance of administering Alcaine or Tetracaine rather than afterwards. Has something changed?

  4. My husband came home from work today with a visible piece of metal in his eye, we tried to remove it ourselves by flushing it, and using a moist cotton swab. Unfortunately nothing has worked. He refuses to go to the doctor to seek treatment. Am I right to be so worried that this could seriously damage his vision if left untreated.

    1. Tell him to go to the doctor and get treated.
      If he is fortunate and his first name is Jack, you can get him a black eye patch like pirates wore and everyone can call him One Eyed Jack, because that’s what he’ll be down to.

  5. hello,
    I was at home working underneath a vehicle when I pulled a part out from the car rust from below came as well and I believe that now I have pieces of rust in my eye. My symptoms are very irritable, extremely sensitive to the light, very red and watery. What do you believe I should do to make sure I got all pieces out of my eye? I have used some eye drops in the mean time.

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