Corneal Abrasion

What is a corneal abrasion?

A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the surface of the cornea. The cornea is the clear outer layer on the front of the eye. Corneal abrasions are usually very painful because of all the nerves in the cornea.

What is the cause?

Corneal abrasions can be caused by:

  • A sports injury: This can happen in sports such as basketball or football when a player gets poked in the eye, or in tennis or racquetball when a player gets hit in the eye with the ball.
  • Something gets in the eye: Splinters or tiny pieces of dirt may come out in tears, or a healthcare provider may need to remove it.
  • Something scratches the eye: The eye may be scratched with something such as a fingernail, branch, piece of paper, or comb.
  • Problems with contact lenses: Gas permeable contacts may become chipped or cracked and scratch the eye. Wearing contact lenses too long can also cause an abrasion.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • redness
  • tearing
  • feeling like there is something in the eye
  • pain
  • a scratchy feeling
  • painful sensitivity to light
  • blurry vision

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and ask if you know how your eye was scratched. (If you don't know, the cause may be a disease rather than something in your eye.)

Using special eyedrops and a light that makes an abrasion easier to see, your provider will look at your eye with a special light. The drops contain a dye that will make your vision and tears yellow for a few minutes.

How is it treated?

If something is still in your eye, your healthcare provider will flush it out with water or remove it with a swab or needle (after numbing your eye with a drop of anesthetic).

Your healthcare provider may:

  • Give you antibiotic drops or ointment to use for several days.
  • Give you another medicine that dilates your eyes and helps relieve pain and sensitivity to light.
  • Tape an eye patch over your eye to keep the eyelid closed. This helps to relieve pain.
  • Place a contact lens over your cornea to act as a bandage. The contact helps to speed up healing and reduces eye pain.
  • Want to see you often until your eye is healed.

How long will the effects last?

Most corneal abrasions heal in a day or two. Larger abrasions will take longer. If symptoms last longer than that, see your healthcare provider again because there may be a more serious problem.

Once the cornea has healed, you can usually resume your normal activities right away. If you wear contact lenses, your healthcare provider may ask you to wait one week after your cornea has healed before you wear your contact lenses again. Once you’ve had a corneal abrasion, you are at risk for a repeat abrasion in the same area. It is important to lubricate the eyes well after an abrasion has healed.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow your treatment plan.
  • Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent a corneal abrasion?

  • Always wear goggles, safety glasses, or eye shields at work or when playing sports where your eyes could be injured.
  • Follow your eye care provider's instructions for wearing and caring for contact lenses. Do not wear them longer than recommended.

Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site:

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