Corneal Abrasion

A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the cornea. The cornea, made of several protective layers, is the clear, front surface of the eye, located directly in front of the colored part of the eye.

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

Risk Factors

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

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

How to Treat a Scratch on Your Cornea 

Minor scratches usually heal within 1-2 days. Some severe corneal abrasions may form a scar or corneal opacity and permanently impair vision. 

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.

Relieving Discomfort

Medications that can help your Corneal Abrasion heal 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 relieve the discomfort and improve healing.


Always go to an eye doctor right away if your eye is bothering you. You can also try:

  • To not rub your eye; rubbing could worsen the abrasion
  • Moist compresses to help relieve the pain
  • Keep your contact lenses out of your eyes until your provider clears you to

Prevent Eye Injury

Prevention aims to avoid injury to the cornea. To avoid a corneal abrasion:

  • Do not rub your eyes.
  • Wear safety glasses or protective goggles when participating in sports, yard work, construction or other activities that could injure your eyes.
  • It is best to wear goggles that fully surround your eyes and touch your skin.
  • This protective wear is especially important during work with high-velocity objects, such as hammering a nail or grinding metal.
  • Wash your hands before handling your contact lenses. Clean and wear contact lenses as directed. Never sleep in your contact lenses unless approved by your eye doctor.

If something gets in your eye:

  • Try to flush it out with water. Splash the water so it drains toward the side of your head, not toward your nose and other eye.
  • Do not rub your eye.
  • Call your doctor.

If an object strikes your eye at a fast pace, it can be a medical emergency. Seek medical attention right away.

If a chemical splashes into your eyes, flush your eyes right away and call for emergency medical services.

If you do have eye pain or a foreign object, consider seeing an eye specialist immediately rather than going to the emergency room. However, if you have a severe injury or chemical splash, call for emergency medical services.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.