A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the clear protective covering of your eye—the cornea. Sometimes a scratched cornea can create an open wound and increase your risk of an eye infection. But many corneal abrasions aren’t a cause for concern.

Sand,dust and other small airborne particles can cause a corneal abrasion. Having dry eyes can also cause a corneal abrasion. If your eyes are severely dry you may wake up with your eyelids stuck to your cornea and this can tear part of the corneal epithelium. Wearing contact lenses too long can also cause scratches to your cornea.

The cornea is extremely sensitive so even very small corneal scratches can be extremely painful. If you have a corneal abrasion you may also experience eye redness, tearing, light sensitivity, headache, eye twitching, or blurry vision.

Most corneal abrasions will heal on their own, but if you have persistent pain and/or blurry vision see your eye doctor.  Contact lenses should not be worn during the healing process.  Alert your eye doctor if you suspect a corneal abrasion and you are a contact lens wearer.  

What Not to Do

If you get something like dust or sand in your eye there is a natural tendency to rub your eye, but this can make the situation worse. The best thing to do is flush your eye with sterile saline solution. Do not use tap water to flush your eye. Tap water can contain microorganisms and when microorganisms are introduced into an eye with a scratched cornea they can cause a serious eye infection.

Along this same line of precaution, a corneal abrasion caused by organic matter such as soil or a natural fertilizer can introduce microorganisms into the eye and it’s a good idea to alert your eye doctor if your corneal abrasion was caused by any type of organic matter.

Flushing your eye with a sterile saline solution should be enough treatment for a minor corneal abrasion, but if after flushing your eye, you experience continued redness, pain, or the sensation of a foreign body in your eye seek immediate attention.

Treatments for Corneal Abrasions

If the abrasion is minor then treatment with non-preserved lubricating eye drops to keep your eye moist and comfortable while it heals is sometimes enough. More serious corneal abrasions may require an antibiotic eye ointment and steroid eye drops to decrease inflammation and relieve pain and light sensitivity. Wearing sunglasses while the corneal abrasion is healing will ease the effects of light sensitivity and make you more comfortable.  

There are also bandage contact lenses that can be used with prescription eye drops. The bandage lens provides pain relief.

How to Prevent a Corneal Abrasion

Wear safety glasses or protective goggles when doing yard work, when using power tools and when playing sports and in environments that have airborne debris.