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How to Treat a Corneal Abrasion

A cut to the eye can be one of the most physically painful experiences in an individual’s life. The front surface of the eye, the cornea, is a delicate structure important for transmitting light and protecting the eye.

This structure has many nerves and is very sensitive to all stimuli. People may experience trauma to the cornea via an abrasive injury, such as a scratch from a fingernail, a tree branch, or even a metal foreign object.

In these cases, a visit to the eye doctor is important to ensure a successful recovery.

What Causes a Corneal Abrasion?

As stated above, a corneal abrasion is a cut on the eye which can result from a variety of causes. This could be from a foreign object that enters the eye and disrupts the surface, either from impact or continued eye rubbing.

Metal, dirt, and sand are common examples. Another cause could be from blunt trauma, whether it is a fingernail or bush branch to the eye.

What to Do if You Have a Scratched Cornea

If one of the above scenarios has occurred and the cornea has been injured, here are the immediate steps that can be taken.

First, try to flush out the eye using saline solution, if it is available. It is best to avoid other sources of water, including tap water.

Other sources may contain microbes that can cause the abrasion to become infected, doing more harm than good. Any type of sterile water is best, and you could also use an over the counter antibiotic eye drop until you can get in to see our eye doctor.

Next, try blinking lightly. Your eyelids are designed to keep out debris and protect the eye, so gentle blinking may move the foreign body out of the eye.

However, in some cases, the particle may be trapped under the eyelid, making blinking even more painful and harmful as the particle repeatedly scrapes the cornea. If you feel that it is getting worse with blinks, stop blinking and try to keep the eye closed.

Generating tears is helpful in these situations. Your tears are constantly being replenished onto the surface of the eye and are useful in washing away debris.

Allow the eye to naturally wash away the particle if possible.

Make sure to visit our optometrists to ensure proper healing of the abrasion. Our optometrist will assess the depth and severity of the cut.

If the particle is still in the eye, our optometrist may apply an anesthetic eye drop and subsequently remove the offending item that may be lodged in the eye. This is done with specialized tools while viewing the cut and item under high magnification.

In some cases, a bandage contact lens may then be used to help with discomfort from the injury, and a prophylactic antibiotic eye drop may be prescribed for you to use to decrease the risk of an infection.

What NOT to Do When You Have a Corneal Abrasion

It is important to remember that rubbing your eyes with your hands can easily make the situation worse. In cases when the debris is trapped under the eyelid, rubbing your eyes will cause the particle to further scratch the front surface of the eye.

This can lead to more damage, although it is reversible in most cases. If there is an open wound on the front surface of the eye, touching the eye with non-sanitized fingers may also increase the risk of infection.

Stay away from using water sources other than saline solution. In some situations, such as a chemical eye injury, tap water will be a better option for rinsing than using nothing if saline is unavailable, but saline is ultimately the best option.

If you wear contact lenses, make sure to discontinue contact lens wear. This will encourage healing of the cornea and prevent infection.

As mentioned above, a bandage contact lens can be instilled by the optometrist, but this may differ from the lenses that you wear for vision correction. Only certain lenses are approved by the FDA for safe overnight wear and give an optimal healing environment for the eye injury.


Our eye doctors at Eye Theory in Houston, TX excel in the prescription of contact lenses, glasses and various eye diseases.  Call our optometrist at 832.831.7386 or schedule an appointment online if you think you have a scratched cornea or corneal abrasion.  Our eye doctor, Dr. Jonathan Tsao, provides the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in the Midtown, Downtown, Museum District, Montrose, East Downtown, and Southside Commons (Southside Place) vicinities of Houston, Texas.

Corneal Abrasions and Eye Injuries

Most of us try our best to take care of our eyes. When something comes close to our faces that might hit us, we immediately shut our eyes and turn our faces away to protect them. Even with caution, however, injuries to our eyes still happen and these often affect the clear front of the eye, the cornea. Below is explained how injuries to the cornea commonly proceed, what treatment for them entails, and some ways to prevent their occurrence and recurrence.

Types of Eye Injuries

When an injury occurs to the cornea that scratches its surface but does not pierce it, this is called a corneal abrasion. There will be immense pain when this occurs and likely some light sensitivity will develop afterwards as well. The cornea can heal very quickly, within a couple of days depending on the size, when this happens, but steps must be taken to ensure that this healing proceeds normally. Scratches can also occur as a result of debris lodged under the upper eyelids, and these must be removed.

Sometimes, a small bit of a fast moving object can enter into the cornea and embed itself there. This can be a piece of metal, wood, dirt, etc. The cornea is tough and can often stop these foreign body projectiles, but they must be removed to prevent scarring and further damage. If the cornea is completely pieced or perforated, more complex surgical treatment may be required depending on the extent of damage deeper in the eye and on how large the entrance hole is.

Regardless of the source of the injury, corneal trauma carries a secondary risk. The wound itself heals quickly, but requires months to completely reattach to the underlying tissue. This means that the area that was injured has an increased sensitivity to further damage and may spontaneously lift up with the eyelids when first waking in the morning, reopening the original injury site. This is called recurrent corneal erosion.

Corneal Abrasion Treatment

Our eye doctors will usually either put on antibiotic eye drops in office or prescribe them to prevent infection of the injury. If something is stuck in the eye, it will be removed if possible after the eye has been numbed with eye drops. This can be done with various metal tools like forceps or tweezers and tiny hockey sticks, or with motorized drills that gently scrape off dirty tissue.

If there is nothing in the eye, the loose edges of a corneal abrasion may be manually removed to quicken healing. If the wound is large, a bandage contact lens may be put on your eye to shelter it while it recovers, then removed after a few days.

Other drops may be used depending on how inflamed the eye is, such as corticosteroid eye drops to reduce inflammation or painkiller eye drops if you are in a great deal of pain. Drops that dilate your pupils help both with pain and with speeding healing of inflammation within the eyes.


How to Prevent Corneal Abrasions and Eye Injuries

Obviously, avoiding risky activities for the eyes and wearing safety glasses when performing activities with eye hazards are both useful ways to prevent eye injuries. In addition, after an initial injury has occurred, one can prevent recurrent corneal erosion by using lubricating eye drops often during the day and hypertonic ointment before bed at night. This ointment provides a barrier between the eyes and the lids and dries out the cornea, reducing the chance of the lids ripping the cornea open in the morning and causing the injury to recur. Medications such as steroids or doxycycline may also sometimes be prescribed to help healing and thus reduce the chance of this happening.

Our eye doctors at Eye Theory in Houston, TX excel in the prescription of contact lenses, glasses and various eye diseases.  Call our optometrist at 832.831.7386 or schedule an appointment online if you would like to learn more about corneal abrasions and other eye injuries.  Our eye doctor, Dr. Jonathan Tsao, provides the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in the Midtown, Downtown, Museum District, and Southside Commons (Southside Place) vicinities of Houston, Texas.