Here's what you should (and shouldn't) do if a foreign object gets stuck in your eye.

When a foreign object enters your eye, you'll know right away. Whether it's an eyelash, dust particle, or tiny piece of sand, chances are it will feel so bothersome that you won't be able to focus on anything else until it's removed. And it's very important that you do get the particle out: in addition to being extremely painful, a foreign object in your eye can also put you at risk for infection. The next time this happens, here’s what you should (and shouldn't) do.

Be gentle

When a foreign object enters your eye, your first instinct will be to rub it. According to Randy McLaughlin, OD, an optometrist at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center,gently trying to dislodge it is fine if you're extremely careful. Wash your hands with soap and water first. And "gentle" is the key word: if you rub roughly, you could end up with a painful corneal abrasion. You also shouldn't try to remove a larger object from the eye, anything that appears to be embedded, or anything that has rough edges—if this is the case, go to the doctor immediately.

Irrigate with water

Splashing the object away with clean water typically does the trick for most particles in the eye, says Dr. McLaughlin. "Irrigate the eye with water at the sink," he says."Or if you’re at home and it’s easier, you might even want to jump in the shower." An eye dropper filled with clean water can also help with this.

See your doctor

Dr. McLaughlin says the biggest mistake people make is simply ignoring the foreign object for days. "If you can still feel it and you can't get it out, you probably need to see a doctor," he says. The longer a particle remains in the eye, the greater the risk it could scratch the cornea or become infected. Your doctor can use a biomicroscope (also called a slit lamp) to look into your eye and determine whether or not the particle is lodged. You should also go to the doctor immediately if you are experiencing pain or redness in your eye after removing the foreign object by irrigation.

After the particle has been removed, your eye may feel sore. Your doctor might suggest an antibiotic solution to make sure any abrasions do not become infected.

Protect your eyes

Investing in comfortable eyewear can help prevent this issue from happening again in the future. "Always wear eye protection when you can," says Dr. McLaughlin. When you're outside in the summer, wear sunglasses. And if you work in an environment where flying particles are common, such as landscaping or mechanics, it's a good idea to wear safety goggles.