Definition

A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the cornea. The cornea is the clear, front surface of the eye. It sits in front of the colored part of the eye.

The cornea is several layers thick that help to protect the eye.

The Cornea
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Causes

Most corneal abrasions happen because of:

  • Small particles hitting the eye such as dust, dirt, sand, wood slivers, or metal shavings
  • Vigorously rubbing the eye, especially when something is in it
  • A fingernail, tree branch, or other object scratching the eye
  • Wearing contact lenses, especially if the lenses are worn longer than safe or not cleaned properly
  • Poor or no protection for eyes during surgery—the cornea can dry out if your eyes are not fully shut during surgery
  • Certain eye disorders

Seek medical attention right away:

  • If an object strikes the eye at high speeds.
  • If a chemical splashes into the eyes. Flush your eyes right away then call for emergency services.

If there is no eye pain or a foreign object, consider seeing an eye specialist right away instead of going to the emergency room.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the risk of corneal abrasion include:

  • Having a dry or weak cornea
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Working in a setting where there are dangers to the eye, such as metal working or gardening
  • Participating in sports where accidental eye injuries can occur
  • Bell palsy

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain that may worsen when opening or closing the eye
  • A feeling that a foreign object is in your eye
  • Blurred vision
  • Tearing
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Headache

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. An eye exam will be done. The doctor will look for any foreign objects in the eye. Drops of a special dye may be placed in the eye. The dye will make it easier to see a scratch when seen under a special blue light.

Treatment

Minor scratches usually heal within 1-2 days. Some severe scratches may form a scar and cause a permanent reduction in vision. An eye specialist may be needed to treat large or deep scratches.

Treatment may include:

Removing a Foreign Object

The foreign object may need to be removed. This may be done by flushing the eye with sterile fluid. The doctor may need a cotton swab, needle, or other tool to remove the object.

Medication

Medications may include:

  • Antibiotic ointment or eye drops to prevent infection
  • Pain medications to reduce discomfort

Self-care

See an eye doctor for eye problems that persist. Other self-care steps that may help include:

  • Do not rub your eye. Rubbing may worsen the abrasion.
  • Use moist compresses to help relieve the pain.
  • Do not wear contact lenses until the doctor says it is okay to do so.

Medical Care

The doctor may place a special contact lens in the eye. It may help to relieve the discomfort and improve healing.

The eye will be monitored to make sure the scratch is healing.

Prevention

To decrease the risk of injury to the cornea:

  • Do not rub your eyes.
  • Wear safety glasses or protective goggles during sports, yard work, construction, or other activities that could cause injury.
    • It is best to wear goggles that fully surround the eyes and make contact with the skin.
    • Very important during work with high-speed objects, such as hammering a nail or grinding metal.
  • Always wash your hands before touching your contact lenses. Clean and wear contact lenses as directed. Never sleep in contact lenses unless approved by an eye doctor.

If something gets in the eye:

  • Try to flush it out with water. Splash the water so it drains out toward the side of your head. You can also try putting your face into a bowl of water.
  • Do not rub the affected eye.
  • Call an eye doctor.

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