Feature: PATIENT EDUCATION SERIES
What is a corneal abrasion?
A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the cornea, the clear protective “window” on the front of your eye. The cornea helps focus light as it enters the eye, so corneal abrasions can affect your vision. Small airborne particles (dust, dirt, sand, and wood or metal shavings) can get in your eye and scratch the cornea. An abrasion can also develop when a larger sharp object scratches the cornea, such as a fingernail, the edge of a piece of paper, or a mascara brush. If a corneal abrasion gets infected, it can cause a corneal ulcer, which is a serious problem.
How will I know if I have a corneal abrasion?
If you have a corneal abrasion, you may feel like you have something in your eye, called a “foreign body sensation.” Your eye may start to tear more than usual and become red. A corneal abrasion can also cause blurred vision and a headache. Your eye may become sensitive to light and the muscles around your eye may twitch, causing you to squint.
How are corneal abrasions treated?
If you think you have something in your eye, don't rub it because that can make the abrasion worse. If you're wearing contact lenses, take them out as soon as possible. Look down and blink a few times, which may help flush the particle away.
If your eye is still uncomfortable, see your healthcare provider or an eye care professional for an exam. He or she may put a drop of yellow-orange dye called fluorescein in your eye to see any abrasions. If you have a corneal abrasion, you may need to use antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection or steroid eye drops to decrease inflammation. Take any medicine exactly as prescribed.
You shouldn't wear contact lenses or use eye makeup until your eye is healed. Avoid driving if your vision is impaired. Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with the pain. Wear sunglasses to help relieve pain from light sensitivity. After a day of treatment, follow up with your healthcare provider. Mild corneal abrasions usually heal within 2 to 3 days.
What can I do to avoid getting a corneal abrasion?
Many corneal abrasions can be prevented if you take precautions. To protect your eyes:
- Wear sunglasses when hiking to keep windblown objects out of your eyes.
- Wear protective eyewear when working with wood or metals, especially when using a grinding wheel, hammering on metal, or welding.
- If you wear contact lenses, clean them thoroughly before you put them in your eyes and make sure your hands are clean when you handle them. Don't wear contact lenses longer than you're supposed to—ask your healthcare provider how long you should wear them each day.
- If you care for an infant, carefully trim his or her fingernails to avoid being scratched.
- Don't rub your eyes if you get dust or dirt in them; rinse them with tap water to flush out the particles. If you still feel like you have something in your eye, seek medical care to prevent a serious eye injury.