Corneal abrasions are simply scratches on your cornea. It is a common injury that results in eyes that feel painful or at least extremely irritated.
If your eye has gotten scratched, your eyes have probably gotten very red and possibly even sensitive to light. The reason for the discomfort is because of the damage that has been done to the top layer of your cornea.
What is a Cornea?
The cornea is the clear coating or surface of your eye. Its job is to focus the light that enters your eye in such a way that allows you to see. You need your cornea to be healthy and undamaged to be able to see and have decent vision.
When you have a corneal abrasion, you’ve scratched the eye. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it also can lead to infection in your eye. For that reason, if you’ve scratched your cornea, then you should see a doctor to heal quickly and keep damage to a minimum.
What is the Cause of a Corneal Abrasion?
There are numerous ways that you can end up with a corneal abrasion because anything that touches your cornea has the potential to cause an eye injury. That means it can be makeup (like your mascara wand), a contact lens that’s torn, random debris, your baby’s fingernail, or any number of things.
Corneal abrasions aren’t usually a result of eye trauma. Instead, it’s usually because you had dirt or other small pieces of debris flying at your face and it got lodged in your eye at some point. If you rub your eye while this piece of dirt or sand is in your eye, you’ve got the perfect storm for a corneal abrasion.
Another cause is having dry eyes. If you have the unfortunate circumstance where you wake up after a night’s sleep and have eyes that are so dry, your eyelids stick to your cornea. Because of dry eyes, you can end up with a corneal abrasion. Opening your eyes when they’re that dry can actually pull a piece of the cornea off your eye leading to an extremely painful corneal abrasion. When this occurs chronically, over and over, it’s known as a recurrent corneal erosion (RCE).
Contact lenses also don’t help with corneal abrasions (unless they’re used during treatment). Yes, they cover the cornea when placed in the eye properly, but that doesn’t always mean anything. Where it goes in your eye is one of the biggest reasons you need to make sure your contact is completely clean before putting it in your eye.
If there is even a small piece of dirt on your contact lens, you could cause a corneal abrasion. When contacts become dry, they can cause your cornea to get scratched. If you wear them for too long, you could run the risk of getting an abrasion, too.
What are the Symptoms of a Corneal Abrasion?
It is safe to say that your cornea is extremely sensitive. Even the smallest particle is going to feel like there is a boulder in your eye. Having something lodged in your eye is painful, so when there is something in there that is not supposed to be there, it hurts.
One of the other signs that you’ll feel when you have a corneal abrasion is an overwhelming amount of redness. Your eyes will get watery, be sensitive to light, and you’ll maybe even get headaches or experience blurry vision.
If any of these sound familiar to you, you should probably go see a doctor to prevent further damage to your eye. Whatever you do, don’t rub your eye because it can make things worse. If you happen to get something stuck in your eye, flushing with water can help. But that’s the extent of what you should do.
Another option would be to rinse your eye with a saline solution or a multipurpose lens solution because they are both sterile. These are both fantastic at cleaning out your eye without leaving behind any other possible pathogens.
Once you’ve flushed your eye, if the irritation or redness don’t go away after about a day, then you’re going to want to see a doctor as soon as possible. Without knowing what caused the scratch or what caused the infection, your doctor may also want to swab for a culture to check for any infection.
How to Treat a Corneal Abrasion
How to treat the abrasion is going to depend on just how bad the scratch is as well as the cause of the injury. If it’s a minor scratch, you may just need some special drops to keep your eyes well-lubricated while your eye heals.
Even if the scratch isn’t deep, be prepared for your doctor to prescribe some drops anyway that are antibiotic as a preventative to keep infection at bay. If the scratch isn’t deep, it should heal in just a couple of days.
On the other hand, if it’s a deeper scratch, you may get an antibiotic ointment instead because it stays in place longer than drops do. You might also be prescribed a steroid if there is inflammation and you may also be given something for pain. Large abrasions can also cause a permanent scar.
If a cornea is scratched particularly bad, then it will be treated with a bandage contact lens. You use one of these with antibiotic eye drops that are prescribed. The combination helps to heal and provide you with relief from the pain.
Aside from this specialized contact, you should never wear a regular contact lens over an abrasion. If you do, you risk infection. You should always wait to put contacts on again until after your eye doctor has told you it’s okay to do so.
Should the doctor decide that the abrasion is particularly severe, then you may end up having a follow-up appointment soon after your first appointment. If it is treated as soon as possible, there is a good chance that you won’t suffer any permanent damage. However, if you wait too long, you can suffer from vision loss as a result of not taking care of the abrasion right away.
If you are under the care of a doctor, make sure you attend every appointment you are given to ensure proper healing. Sometimes abrasions follow their own timeline, so you can’t miss an appointment if you can help it. Otherwise, you may develop complications that your doctor will not be aware of in a timely manner.
Corneal Abrasion Prevention
It sounds like avoiding getting your cornea scratched should be common sense, right? There is some truth to that, but sometimes, preventing a scratch can be difficult.
One of the precautions that you can take to prevent scratching your eye would be to wear appropriate eye protection when you’re somewhere where there is debris flying around. That could mean anywhere you’re outdoors, and the wind is blowing. Sunglasses are great for this because you should be wearing them outdoors anyway.
If you’re outdoors and you’re working in the yard, you should also have some sort of eye protection, like safety goggles, because all it takes is a single speck of dirt to cause a world of problems. Other work environments are also hazardous to your eyes if you don’t wear the proper eye gear.
As an example, if you use power tools or work with welding equipment, you risk a variety of debris getting lodged in your eye. That’s why you need to make sure you have goggles on or safety glasses available for you to use.
A Few Last Words
Corneal abrasions are no joke. They can cause so much pain that you don’t want to do anything but lie down in the dark with your eyes closed. Don’t do something that can make it worse and progress it to something like a corneal ulcer.
Should you have dry eyes that lead to a corneal abrasion, see your eye doctor as soon as possible. You may need specialized treatment given that dry eyes can complicate the healing process. Follow whatever your eye doctor says to do so you don’t make matters worse.
Remember, if you prefer to wear contacts, you need to follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter after you have been cleared for your abrasion. Your eye doctor will let you know how long your contacts should be worn before replacing them. He or she will also let you know what you need to do to ensure appropriate lens care to prevent potential infection.
Take proper precautions to prevent abrasions like wearing eye protection when necessary. Protect your eyes because they’re the only ones you have.