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Man Gets Eye Exam, Learns He's Had a Splinter Stuck in His Cornea for 15 Years

In a paper this month, doctors describe finding a wooden splinter lodged inside a man’s cornea for 15 years that's caused no apparent harm.

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Talk about an eyesore. In a case report this month, doctors have described finding a wooden splinter lodged inside a man’s cornea for apparently 15 years. Amazingly, the man’s vision appears unaffected by the foreign object and doctors have opted to simply monitor him for now rather than try to remove it.

The strange injury was detailed earlier this month in the journal BMJ Case Reports by eye doctors from Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts and Wayne State University in Michigan.


According to the paper, the man is in his 30s and a Boston area resident. He was visiting an ophthalmology clinic for his regular diabetes eye exam (diabetes can cause vision-related complications over time and it’s recommended that patients get their eyes checked out once a year to catch problems before they become more serious). During a slit lamp examination, doctors noticed a foreign body stuck inside the cornea of his right eye, ultimately determined to be a three-millimeter-long wooden splinter.


Based on the patient’s reporting, the splinter was most likely obtained from an eye injury while gardening about 15 years ago. The man recalled experiencing immediate pain and discomfort after the incident but decided to not seek any medical care as his symptoms cleared up. And since then, it seems like the splinter has been a harmless passenger. Tests revealed no major scarring or increased pressure in the affected eye, and the visual acuity of his right eye was roughly the same as that of the left, if slightly worse.


Things getting stuck in the eye without issue isn’t unheard of, but objects made of organic material such as wood are considered more dangerous since they can act as a breeding ground for potential germs relative to inorganic materials. That said, there have been other reports of benign eye splinters documented before. In one report published in 2009, for instance, doctors found a well-tolerated splinter lodged inside a man’s cornea for what was likely 40 years.

The current case and others suggest that so long as a splintered eye escapes serious damage and infection initially, it may be safe to treat these injuries conservatively and avoid surgery, the authors say. But doctors do generally recommend that people seek medical care promptly if they get a foreign object stuck in the eye that can’t be removed, especially if it’s affecting their vision. And the authors have advised that the man keep a close eye on himself for the foreseeable future.


“Despite the patient’s overall stable condition, it was recommended to uphold vigilant monitoring and continue with biannual follow-ups at the clinic,” they wrote. “Additionally, the patient was instructed to promptly return to the clinic in the event of any pain, redness or changes in vision.”