Corneal Abrasions: Signs, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Written By: Susannah Lockett

A scratched cornea, also known as corneal abrasion, is one of the most prevalent types of eye injury. It can happen to anyone, and it can happen suddenly. Depending on the extent of the injury, a corneal abrasion can cause varying degrees of pain and discomfort.

An understanding of a corneal abrasion can better help you deal with it safely and effectively. Here is some helpful information.

What Constitutes a Scratched Cornea?

The cornea is the clear dome of our eye that covers the iris, the circular colored portion of the eye and the pupil, the opening in the middle of the iris. The multi-layered cornea directs light that enters the eye to focus on the retina, thus serving as the principal optical element in our vision. It also shields the intraocular contents against harmful irritants.

However, the cornea itself can sustain scratches easily. A scratched cornea essentially disrupts the integrity of the protective, outermost layer of the cornea called the epithelium, creating an open wound in that area.

Causes of a Scratched Cornea

A scratched cornea can be caused in multiple ways. Irrespective of how big or small, anything that makes contact with the surface of our eye can cause potential trauma to the cornea.

Often caused by the direct impact of a sharp object such as a pen or a pencil, a pointed tool, or an errant tree branch, even small particles such as flying dust, grains of sand, or specks of metal shavings can cause a corneal abrasion, especially if they get trapped beneath the eyelid. Sometimes, a scratched cornea is self-inflicted by accidental scratching or aggressive rubbing of the eye. Improper use of contact lenses can also abrade the cornea.

Signs of a Scratched Cornea

Our eyes are subject to environmental stressors which can cause discomfort from time to time. As such, it is important to be familiar with the signs of a scratched cornea so you can differentiate between general discomfort and scratched cornea and get the appropriate treatment.

What Does a Scratched Cornea Feel Like?

The most significant symptom of a corneal abrasion is an unrelenting gritty feeling in the eye, often accompanied by varying degrees of pain. Other symptoms may include redness of the eye, excessive tearing, and sudden photophobia or sensitivity to light. Sometimes, a scratched cornea may cause blurred vision or decreased acuity too.

Home Remedies for a Scratched Cornea

If you believe you have sustained a corneal abrasion, it is essential that you seek prompt medical attention; however, there are some immediate steps you can attempt at home to relieve your symptoms.

You can blink repeatedly to try to dislodge the foreign object from your eye. You can also pull your upper eyelid outward and downward over your lower eyelid to cause your eye to tear and flush the debris away. Alternatively, you can rinse your eye with clean water or saline solution to wash away the foreign body.

While you can try these things to help bring some relief, it is imperative that you avoid doing certain things as they could exacerbate the injury. It is important that you do not rub your eye. You should also refrain from touching your eye with cotton balls, tweezers, or any kind of instrument.

How Does a Doctor Confirm the Diagnosis?

Though corneal abrasions are rarely serious, they should be evaluated by a medical professional. Due to the natural colors and textures of the eyeball, they are not discernible to the naked eye. However, your eye care provider has access to specialized equipment that can help confirm the diagnosis.  If you feel you might have sustained a corneal abrasion, book an appointment with one of our top-rated eye doctors to provide you with the highest quality of eye care.

During the eye examination, drops of a topical anesthetic with a yellow dye called fluorescein are instilled in the affected eye. The dye highlights the area of denuded epithelium on the cornea, causing it to glow bright green under cobalt blue light. This makes the defect clearly visible to the doctor.


What to do for a Scratched Cornea

The severity of the damage dictates the treatment for a scratched cornea. Superficial abrasions are often treated with lubricating drops to keep the eye moist and comfortable while it heals naturally. Sometimes, antibiotic eye drops are also prescribed as a precautionary measure to prevent infection.

Some corneal abrasions may entail the use of antibiotic ointment for a longer period or steroids to counter inflammation. Depending on the severity, your doctor may also prescribe painkillers to alleviate pain and light sensitivity.

How Long Does it Take a Scratched Cornea to Heal?

The healing time depends on the size and the depth of the scratched cornea. Most minor abrasions heal completely from anywhere between one to three days. More severe abrasions may take a longer time.

With proper treatment, you should recover fully from corneal abrasion without any lasting problems. In rare cases, corneal abrasions can get infected, and this can lead to a major complication called corneal ulcer. If left untreated, a scratched cornea can result in the loss of visual acuity.

Now that you know how it is possible to sustain a scratched cornea, you can minimize the chances to some extent by wearing protective eyewear while engaging in certain activities or sunglasses to keep windblown debris out of your eyes. Despite the precautions, however, it is possible that you sustain corneal abrasion.

If you suspect that is the case, don’t panic. Try the home remedies to see if they bring any relief. If not, seek immediate medical care for accurate assessment and treatment.

Protect and preserve your eyesight throughout your lifetime by getting regular eye exams. Most people experience eye problems at some point in life, and vision problems tend to increase with age. However, many eye problems and vision issues can be averted by seeking medical care in a timely manner.

Published on: May 2, 2022
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