Corneal abrasions are one of the most common types of eye injury – accounting for about 10 percent of all reported eye injuries – but they are also among the less serious. As long as you take the necessary precautions and seek eyecare when they occur, they should heal quickly and completely without any lasting effects.
What is a corneal abrasion?
A corneal abrasion occurs when the transparent part of the eye called the cornea (which is the clear “window” in the front of your eye) is scraped or scratched. The cornea is a very sensitive part of the body and has many nerve endings which can transmit pain. When the eye becomes scratched, these nerve endings transmit pain to the brain to alert the damage that has occurred on the eye’s corneal surface.
What are the causes of a corneal abrasion?
Eye injuries of this kind are extremely common and can occur when you encounter trauma from a fingernail or tree branch or encounter something like dust or small gravel. You can also get a corneal abrasion by rubbing your eyes. Corneal abrasions can also occur if you get sand in your eyes while swimming or playing in a beach environment, or if you get something in your eyes while driving. If your eyes are irritated because of allergies or dry eye, you are also at greater risk of getting a corneal abrasion.
The blunt trauma, eye rubbing or abrasive particles irritate your cornea, causing a small scratch that can be painful. Your eye may produce more tears than usual in an effort to heal the wound. If the abrasion is particularly severe, you may also notice blurred vision in that eye.
What are the symptoms of a corneal abrasion?
There are various symptoms as well as severity in symptoms with corneal abrasions. Less severe injuries have lesser symptoms including watering or tearing of the eye. The more severe the scratch, the more severe the symptoms including foreign body sensation (as though something is stuck inside the eye), light sensitivity, eye pain, redness of the white part of the eye (conjunctiva) and in the more severe cases, blurry or loss of vision.
How do you diagnose a corneal abrasion?
Your eye doctor will perform an eye exam checking your vision as well as your eye pressures. To determine the presence and severity of a corneal abrasion, your doctor will use a clinic-grade microscope called a slit lamp to examine your eye determine the severity of the abrasion, which will help your doctor determine the most appropriate treatment. Your eye doctor will place a dye called fluorescein on your eye’s surface that can reveal a cut or scratch on the cornea, as well as any foreign body material in the eye or other signs of injury.
How do you treat a corneal abrasion?
Depending on the results of the eye examination, your doctor will have the following options to consider for treatment.
- Artificial Tears: Using artificial tears can help you keep your eyes hydrated while they heal. The drops can help keep the cornea moist and help prevent it from “drying out” and potentially re-scratching during the healing process.
- Antibiotic Eye Drops: If your corneal abrasion is severe enough to need treatment, your doctor may prescribe a prophylactic course of antibiotics. This may be in the form of an eye drop or an eye ointment. The purpose of the eye drops is to help prevent an eye infection.
- Eye Patch: In certain cases where the abrasion is severe enough, a temporary eye patch can be recommended to wear over the injured eye to prevent it from blinking. This helps with the healing as blinking can potentially slow the healing or even make the abrasion worse.
- Bandage Contact Lens: Similar to an eye patch as discussed before where the abrasion is severe enough, a temporary contact lens can be placed into the eye to wear to help with the healing process. The contact lens covers the corneal abrasion and can prevent further injury from mechanical trauma from the eyelids. It also can help with pain control.
- Dilating Eye Drops: Special eye drops that enlarge or widen the pupil can be prescribed in certain circumstances to help with pain relief.
A corneal abrasion is a relatively minor ocular injury that usually heals fully within a few days. Larger abrasion can take longer and sometimes over a week to heal.
Although the healing process can be painful, there are steps you can take to alleviate discomfort, such as using artificial tears and avoiding rubbing your eyes. Rubbing your eyes can make the abrasion worse and should be avoided. Avoid wearing your contact lenses while your eye is healing from the abrasion and consult your doctor for when you should wear your contact lenses again. Always wear eye protection, such as safety googles, when performing outdoor work or playing sports. Remember, if you sustain a corneal abrasion, make sure to take proper care of your eyes and seek prompt medical attention with an eye doctor to avoid lasting damage or complications.