Corneal Abrasion Treatment

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If you get something in your eye, then you could suffer from a corneal abrasion. These common eye injuries affect the cornea, the clear surface of the eye. While any changes to your vision can be scary, these abrasions are very treatable. 

Treating a Corneal Scratch at UVA Health

Though minor scratches usually heal within 1-2 days, it’s important to seek care for more serious corneal scratches. If severe, corneal abrasions can form a scar or corneal opacity, which could permanently impair your vision. An eye care center, like the one at UVA Health, can make sure each step of treatment goes well. 

Removing a Foreign Object

If something in your eye caused the scratch, our eye specialist or provider can remove it by flushing the eye with saline or by using a cotton swab, needle, or other tool.

Treating the Abrasion

After the foreign object is removed, your doctor will flush your eye and check for other injuries. Then, you'll look at potential treatments. Some of the things your provider might recommend include:

  • Antibiotic ointment or eye drops to prevent infection
  • Pain medications to reduce discomfort
  • In some cases, your provider may place a contact lens in your eye to relieve the discomfort and improve healing.

How Do Corneal Abrasions Happen?

Most corneal abrasions happen as a result of:

  • Dust, dirt, sand, wood slivers, or metal shavings hitting the eye
  • Vigorously rubbing the eye, especially when something is in it
  • A fingernail, tree branch or other object scratching the eye
  • Wearing contact lenses, especially if the lenses are worn longer than directed or not cleaned properly
  • Not protecting the eyes during surgery — the cornea can dry out if your eyes are not fully shut during surgery
  • Certain eye disorders

Who Is At Risk of Corneal Injury?

Factors that may increase your risk of corneal abrasion include:

  • Having a dry or weak cornea
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Working in a setting with eye hazards, such as metal working or gardening
  • Participating in sports where accidental eye injuries can occur
  • Bell's palsy

Symptoms of a Corneal Abrasion

Most of the time, you’ll feel pain at the time of injury. But ongoing symptoms may include:

  • Pain that may worsen when opening or closing the eye
  • A feeling that a foreign object is in your eye
  • Blurred vision
  • Tearing
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Headache

Self-Care for Corneal Abrasion

You should always make an appointment with your eye doctor right away. Especially if you suspect a corneal abrasion. But in the meantime:

  • Don’t rub your eye; rubbing could worsen the abrasion
  • Use moist compresses to help relieve the pain
  • Don't wear contacts until your provider says it's okay

Preventing Eye Injury

The best way to deal with a corneal abrasion is to avoid it entirely. While not always possible, here are some steps you can take to avoid a corneal abrasion:

  • Don’t rub your eyes
  • Wash your hands before handling contact lenses
  • Clean and change contacts as directed
  • If you feel something get in your eye, flush it out with water

One of the best safety tips is to make sure you’re wearing safety glasses or protective goggles when participating in sports, yard work, construction, or other activities that could injure your eyes. When picking out goggles, find ones that fully surround your eyes, touching your skin. This prevents the risk of something getting in. This is especially important if you’re sawing through wood, cutting metal, or doing other activities that create debris.

If your eye injury was caused by a chemical, you should go to an emergency room or urgent care right away. Otherwise, an eye specialist will be best able to care for your injury.