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What is a corneal abrasion?
A corneal abrasion is a cut or scratch on your cornea. The cornea is a clear layer of tissue that protects your eye. It lies over the iris, which is the colored part of your eye. The cornea helps focus light and images.
Symptoms of a corneal abrasion
Your corneas are very sensitive, and a corneal abrasion can be painful. It may feel like you have sand or grit in your eye. Your eye can be red and teary. You also may have blurred vision. For some people, light hurts their eye or they get a headache.
What causes a corneal abrasion?
There are several ways you can get a corneal abrasion. Something like sand, dust, dirt, or wood or metal shavings can get in our eye. You might scratch your eye with your fingernail or on a tree branch. You can irritate your cornea by rubbing your eye. You also can get an abrasion from a contact lens that is dry or dirty.
How is a corneal abrasion diagnosed?
If you think you have a corneal abrasion, look at your eye first. Check the mirror to see if you have a cut. If you see a particle on the white part of your eye, you can remove it. Use a soft tissue or cotton swab to get it out of your eye. Do not try to remove something on top of your cornea and iris. This can cause serious damage. If you don’t see anything, try to blink or pull down on your upper eyelid. This can release a particle. Avoid rubbing your eye. This can make the abrasion worse. You also can flush your eye with clean water or saline solution.
If your eye doesn’t improve or you see a cut, call your eye doctor. They will examine your eye for trapped particles or damage. They may look at your eye under a blue filtered light in a dark room. A yellow-orange dye also helps see the abrasion better.
Can a corneal abrasion be prevented or avoided?
Follow the tips below to help prevent corneal abrasions.
- Wear protective eye goggles when you’re around machinery. This prevents particles in the air from scratching or getting into your eyes.
- Keep your fingernails trimmed short. Keep your babies’ and kids’ fingernails short, too.
- Use care when putting in contact lenses. Make sure you clean them properly each day.
- Don’t sleep in your contact lenses.
- Trim low-hanging tree branches.
Corneal abrasion treatment
The most common treatment for a corneal abrasion is eye drops or ointment.
Living with a corneal abrasion
Most corneal abrasions heal within 1 to 3 days. You may need to return to the doctor for a follow-up exam. If you have contacts, your doctor may tell you not wear them until the abrasion heals. Contacts can irritate the cut or scratch and make it worse. Call your doctor if the abrasion isn’t healing with medicine. You may have an infection and need an antibiotic.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Can I still be active if I have a corneal abrasion?
- How can I keep my contacts from causing a corneal abrasion?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.