A scratched cornea is one of the most common types of eye injuries. The cornea is the clear top layer of the eye, which covers the iris and the pupil. A healthy and intact cornea is extremely important to allow the eye to focus light and maintain clear vision. While minor corneal abrasions usually heal within a few days and do not leave any lasting effects, more serious eye scratches can result in infection or scarring that can permanently alter vision. Knowing how to treat an eye that may be scratched can help to prevent further damage.

Symptoms of corneal abrasion

The main symptom of a corneal abrasion is the feeling of a foreign body in the eye. The cornea is extremely sensitive, so even a tiny scratch can make you feel like there is something large stuck in the eye. While instinct may make you feel like rubbing the eye or blinking rapidly, these behaviors can actually lead to more damage. Other symptoms include pain, a gritty feeling, light sensitivity, headache, redness, tearing, and blurry vision.

Causes of corneal abrasion

A corneal abrasion can be caused by any number of things and it can be difficult to determine exactly what caused your scratch. Anything that comes into contact with the eye can scratch it, including: fingers, dirt, sand, makeup brushes, tree branches, paper, overwearing contact lenses, or even rubbing the eye.

What to do if you suspect you have a corneal abrasion

Although you may feel tempted to rub your eye it is best to avoid rubbing if you may have a corneal abrasion. Rubbing can damage the eye further. It is a good idea to flush the eye with clean water or a saline solution to remove any debris that may remain in the eye. If flushing the eye does not alleviate the feeling of having something stuck in your eye – it is a good idea to visit your eye doctor as soon as possible.

Corneal abrasion treatment

Minor corneal abrasions will usually heal on their own within a few days. It is always a good idea to see your doctor even for minor scratches, however, as preventing infection in the eye is very important. Your eye doctor may provide you with lubricating eye drops to keep the eye comfortable during healing, as well as antibiotic drops to prevent infection. More serious abrasions may require an antibiotic ointment and further treatment such as a special bandage contact lens (regular contact lenses should never be worn over a scratched eye). Your doctor may want to schedule a follow up visit for a day or two after your initial treatment to ensure that infection does not set in.