April Newsletter: How Your Ophthalmologist Treats Corneal Abrasions

Woman covers her painful eye.

How Your Ophthalmologist Treats Corneal Abrasions

A corneal abrasion, one of the more common eye injuries, occurs when your cornea is scratched or scraped. Although corneal abrasions don't usually damage your vision, they can be painful and uncomfortable.

What Causes Corneal Abrasions?

Corneal abrasions affect the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped tissue that covers your iris and pupil. In addition to protecting your iris and pupil, the cornea also refracts light precisely onto the retina at the back of the eye. A corneal abrasion occurs when a small scratch removes the top layer of cells on the cornea. Although the abrasion only affects a small area, the injury is quite painful due to the large number of nerve endings in the cornea.

Corneal abrasions can be caused by:

  • A Scratch from a Fingernail. Accidentally poking yourself in the eye or scraping your eye with your fingernail when you remove your contact lenses can cause a corneal abrasion.
  • Dry Eyes. You may be more likely to develop corneal abrasions if your eyes are dry. The tear film in your eyes lubricates them and helps your eyelids glide over the corneas effortlessly. Without enough moisture, your eyelids may rub painfully against your corneas and cause an abrasion.
  • Debris. Corneal abrasions can occur if you get a grain of sand or wind-blown debris in your eye.
  • Rubbing Your Eyes. Rubbing your eyes vigorously can lead to a corneal abrasion, particularly if your eyes are dry.
  • Failing to Wear Goggles. A scratched cornea could happen if you don't wear goggles when you play sports or work around flying debris (like wood chips or metal shaving) or chemicals.
  • Contact Lens Issues. A poorly fitting contact lens may rub against your cornea and cause a corneal abrasion. You may also develop a corneal abrasion if you wear your lenses longer than recommended.
  • Other Causes. Anything that pokes your eye can cause a corneal abrasion. You could hurt your eye if your mascara brush slips or a tree branch brushes against your eye. You can also get a corneal abrasion if you get detergent or a chemical solution in your eye.

Corneal Abrasion Symptoms

Corneal abrasion pain prompts many people to visit the emergency room (ER). In fact, corneal abrasions account for around 45% of ER eye diagnoses, according to StatPearls.

In addition to severe pain, other symptoms of corneal abrasions can include:

  • Sensitivity to Light
  • Difficulty Opening the Eye
  • Watery Eyes
  • Blurry Vision
  • A Feeling That Something Is Stuck in Your Eye
  • Redness

If you experience these symptoms, call your ophthalmologist or go to the emergency room. Treating corneal abrasions promptly is important, as the scratches can become infected, in some cases. Without treatment, an infection could temporarily or permanently damage your vision.

Diagnosing and Treating Corneal Abrasions

Your ophthalmologist may put special drops in your eyes that make it easier to spot the corneal abrasion. The abrasion looks green when viewed under a blue light thanks to the drops. If it's difficult for you to open your eye, your eye doctor may put a topical anesthetic eye drop in your eye first to make the process more comfortable. If something is stuck in your eye, your ophthalmologist will remove it and flush your eye with saline solution.

Small corneal abrasions heal in just a day or two, but larger abrasions may take up to a week to heal, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Your eye doctor may prescribe antibiotic eyedrops or ointment that will help prevent an infection. He or she will tell you how often to put the eyedrops on ointments in your eye. Ointment and eye drops also moisten your eye, which reduces pain when your eyelid passes over your cornea.

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can help you manage the pain of a corneal abrasion. If NSAIDs don't help, or your pain isn't improving, let your ophthalmologist know as soon as possible.

Timely treatment helps you avoid complications if you have a corneal abrasion. Call our office immediately if you experience eye pain, watery eyes, foreign body sensation, light sensitivity or other corneal abrasion symptoms.


NCBI: StatPearls: Corneal Abrasion, 1/8/2024


American Academy of Ophthalmology: Corneal Abrasion and Erosion, 10/23/2023


Cleveland Clinic: Corneal Abrasion, 3/29/2023


Wills Eye Hospital: Corneal Abrasion


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