What is a corneal abrasion?
The cornea is the clear area in the center of the front 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.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is a corneal abrasion diagnosed?
Most people know right away when something scrapes their eye. If the eye hurts afterward, it could be a corneal abrasion. Even a small injury to the cornea can be very painful.
You can give yourself a corneal abrasion without realizing it. This can happen when you try to take out a contact lens, but the lens is not actually on the eye. Rubbing a finger directly on the cornea can cause a small scrape.
It is important to have an injury to the cornea examined by your doctor if:
- You develop blurry vision after any type of injury to the eye.
- You have new eye pain which does not resolve within minutes or hours.
- 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.
Management and Treatment
How is a corneal abrasion treated?
If you are diagnosed with a corneal abrasion, you should avoid rubbing your eyes.
Only an eye doctor can recommend the right treatment for a corneal abrasion. 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 may 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 will take longer to heal than smaller ones.
Oral pain medicine may be prescribed for patients with extreme pain or light sensitivity until the abrasion has healed. Topical numbing medications (anesthetics) which may be given in the office to allow examination and treatment should NEVER be used at home due to the toxic effects of repeated administration of these medications.
Outlook / Prognosis
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 on the surface of the cornea. These cells are important for 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 recurrent corneal erosion. This problem can develop days or even years after the initial injury. Recurrent corneal erosions can cause a great deal of 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.