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Gritty sensation

Gritty sensation is the feeling of having sand in the eye. It is also known as foreign body sensation or sandy sensation. It is a common symptom among eye care patients.

Gritty sensation is irritating and very discomforting and is often associated with tearing, redness and in some cases light sensitivity.

Conditions That May Cause Gritty Sensation

There are many eye conditions that can make the eye feel gritty. Top on the list is dry eye syndrome. Other conditions include blepharitis, conjunctivitis, corneal abrasion and ulcers as well as a foreign body in the eye.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome occurs when the front surface of the eye dries out due to insufficient tear film, infrequent blinking and/or poor tear quality and quantity.

The human tear film is made up of three layers; the water (aqueous) layer, oil (lipid) layer and the mucous layer. These layers work together to maintain good quality tear film required to lubricate the eye, wash out foreign materials in the eye and reduce the risk of eye infection. Problems in any layers of the tear film can cause dry eyes.

Gritty sensation in dry eye syndrome may be accompanied by itching, burning sensation, blurred vision and light sensitivity.


Blepharitis is the inflammation of the eyelid margins. It is commonly caused by bacteria and is characterized by swollen, red and crusty eyelids. The eyelids may also itch. The crusts on the eyelids are most obvious on waking up and if they fall off and get into the eyes, they cause gritty sensation.


This is the inflammation of the transparent lining that covers the white part of the eye and also lines the inner surface of the eyelid. Conjunctivitis is mainly caused by germs (e.g. bacteria and viruses). It can also result from allergic reactions and exposure of the eyes to chemicals. Gritty sensation is a major symptom of conjunctivitis especially those caused by viruses and bacteria.

Corneal Abrasion and Ulcer

A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the surface of the cornea while a corneal ulcer is an open sore on the cornea. Both conditions are very painful and cause gritty sensation alongside tearing, redness and blurred vision. Corneal abrasion normally heals without any complications but can lead to an ulcer if not treated properly. Corneal ulcer is a more complicated condition and when it heals, it leaves a scar that can impair vision.

Foreign Body

Sometimes, people who feel gritty sensation, actually have foreign bodies lodged in their eyes. The foreign bodies may either be on the cornea, under the upper lids or in the inferior fornix (the furrow between the lower lid and the eyeball). The foreign body could be an eyelash, a whole insect or its parts, sand/stones, iron pieces, etc.

If your job exposes you to foreign materials that can enter the eye, it is recommended that you take precautions and use safety eye wears. Wearing safety goggles will protect your eyes from flying objects.

What To Do When You Have Gritty Sensation

  1. If you have blepharitis, ensure good eyelid hygiene by cleaning your eyelids with pre-moistened lid wipes or clean napkins dipped into diluted baby shampoo. In addition to eyelid hygiene, your eye doctor may prescribe an ointment to treat the condition.
  2. See an eye doctor immediately if you have gritty sensation due to corneal abrasion (scratch) and corneal ulcer (sore).
  3. For gritty sensation due to a foreign body in the eye, avoid rubbing the eye. Flush the eye under clean running water. If symptoms persist, see your eye doctor immediately.
  4. For all non-specific cases of gritty sensation that gets worse or does not resolve within 24 hours, seek the help of the eye doctor. S/he will examine your eyes, diagnose the condition and prescribe appropriate medications or therapy.