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Corneal Abrasion

What is a corneal abrasion?

The cornea is the clear area in the center of the front surface of the eye. It is the part of the eye through which we see. When the cornea is scratched or scraped by a fingernail, contact lens, tree branch, or other object, the injury is called a corneal abrasion.

How does the doctor know whether someone has a corneal abrasion?

Most people know right away when something scrapes against their eye. If the eye hurts afterward, it could be a corneal abrasion. Even a small injury to the cornea can be very painful.

Some people give themselves a corneal abrasion without realizing it. This can happen when someone tries to take out a contact lens, but the lens is not actually on the eye. A finger rubbing directly on the cornea can cause a small scrape.

It is important to have an injury to the cornea examined by your doctor if:

  • The pain does not go away.
  • You feel like something is in your eye, even if you cannot find anything.
  • There actually is something in the eye, such as dirt, small particles, a splinter, etc.
  • The eye is very sensitive to bright light.

How is a corneal abrasion treated?

Only an eye doctor can recommend the right treatment for someone with a corneal abrasion. However, everyone who has a corneal abrasion should follow one rule: don’t touch or rub your eyes.

Your doctor will examine the eye and remove any objects that he or she finds. Anesthetic eye drops will make this procedure more comfortable.

Most of the time, small corneal abrasions will heal in a few days. The doctor will most likely prescribe eye drops to keep the eye lubricated and to reduce the chance of infection. It is important to use these eye drops as recommended. It might also be necessary to stop wearing contact lenses for a while. Larger corneal abrasions take longer to heal than smaller ones.

Do corneal abrasions heal completely?

Corneal abrasions usually heal without causing any other problem. Even after the original injury is healed, however, the surface of the cornea is sometimes not as smooth as before. Some people who have had a corneal abrasion notice that the eye feels irritated again some time after the abrasion heals.

This feeling may be a sign of trouble with the corneal epithelium, a thin layer of cells that is on the surface of the cornea. These cells are important in the healing of corneal abrasions. Any spot where the cells do not grow back to protect the surface of the cornea results in irritation. When the cells keep growing back and then slipping off again, it is called a recurrent corneal erosion.

Recurrent corneal erosions can cause significant discomfort. Your doctor might recommend using eye drops to lubricate the eye. It might be necessary to stop wearing contact lenses altogether. In some cases, surgery might be recommended to make the corneal surface smooth again.

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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