A common injury patients experience is a scratched eye or corneal abrasion. This type of injury happens when the cornea, the clear front surface of the eye, is damaged.
With a corneal abrasion, the protective outer layer of cells of the cornea, the corneal epithelium is disrupted. This creates an open wound that can increase your risk of eye infection, making it important to get an appointment with your eye doctor as soon as possible to resolve the issue.
How Can You Get a Corneal Abrasion?
There are a variety of ways you can get a corneal abrasion. Anything, big or small that comes into contact with the surface of your eye can result in a scratched eye. Paper, sports equipment, tree branches, a pet, a finger, makeup brushes, workplace debris, and more are all common objects that can cause a corneal abrasion.
In most cases, corneal abrasions are not caused by a major event such as getting poked in the eye. It is more common to experience a corneal abrasion caused by dust, sand, or other small particles coming into contact with your eye, especially if you rub your eyes.
Another cause of corneal abrasions is dry eyes, especially if you usually wake up with dry eyes. As your sleeping, if your eyes dry out, this means your eyelids could stick to your cornea. So, when you open your eye in the morning, your eyelids can cause tearing on the part of the corneal epithelium, which can lead to a painful abrasion on the eye.
How Do I Know If I Have a Corneal Abrasion?
When you have a corneal abrasion, you will likely feel discomfort, redness of the eyes, and hypersensitivity to light. The cornea is extremely sensitive, so even a small abrasion can cause extreme pain and discomfort.
In addition to feeling pain in your eye and a foreign body or gritty type of sensation, you may also experience tearing, headache, eye twitching, decreased or blurry vision, a dull ache, and in some cases nausea.
If you think you may have experienced a corneal abrasion and are feeling these symptoms, it is important to see your eye doctor right as soon as possible.
What to Do If You Have a Corneal Abrasion
If you feel like you have something in your eye, it’s best to avoid rubbing it because it can make things worse. Instead, if you have something in your eye, try to flush it out with water. You also want to avoid patching your eye because this can cause bacterial growth to speed up and increase the risk of eye infection.
If you can, use a sterile saline eyewash or multipurpose contact solution. Avoid using tap water or bottled water. There are microorganisms, such as Acanthamoeba, present in tap water and even bottled water that can cause serious vision-threatening infections if they get into your eye via a corneal abrasion.
Once you’ve flushed your eye, if you are still experiencing redness, a foreign body sensation, or pain, seek immediate medical attention. A corneal abrasion can cause serious harm to the eye within a few hours.
How is a Corneal Abrasion Diagnosed?
To determine if you have a corneal abrasion, your eye doctor may apply an eye drop to help numb the eye so you can keep it open for the duration of the exam. Your doctor then may use another type of eye drop to help them see the extent of the corneal abrasion while viewing your eye with a blue light and an examining microscope that is called a slit lamp.
Depending on what your doctor observes during your exam and what caused your corneal abrasion, they may need to gently swab your eye for a culture to make sure they can properly treat your eye if it becomes infected.
How is a Scratched Eye Treated?
The treatment for your corneal abrasion will depend on how severe your abrasion is and what caused the abrasion. For a minor abrasion, you should be able to treat the abrasion with non-preserved lubricating eye drops. This will keep your eye comfortable and moist to allow your natural healing process to take place. Even if you suffer a superficial abrasion, you may be treated with antibiotic eye drops to help prevent infection as your eye heals. A superficial abrasion can usually heal within two or three days.
Other corneal abrasions could require an antibiotic ointment for treatment. This ointment will remain on the eye longer than the drops. They may also require a steroid to help reduce inflammation as well as something to relieve the light sensitivity and pain. Large and deep corneal abrasions will take longer to heal and can cause permanent scarring that could affect your vision. In other cases, a corneal abrasion can be treated with a bandage contact lens used in conjunction with eye drops. This special lens can help speed healing and relieve discomfort.
If treated right away, most corneal abrasions will heal quickly with no permanent vision loss or damage. If you suffer from a deeper corneal abrasion in the center of the cornea, it can leave a scar that can lead to loss of visual acuity. When left untreated, deeper corneal abrasions may cause a corneal ulcer that can cause severe loss of vision.
Be sure to follow your eye doctor’s instructions and recommendations. Also, be sure to attend any follow-up visits they schedule for you. A scratched eye does not always heal properly and can lead to corneal erosions as well as other complications that can affect your health and your vision.
How Can I Prevent a Corneal Abrasion?
Taking certain precautions can help you prevent corneal abrasions. Always wear protective goggles or safety glasses in a work environment that has airborne debris, especially in a welding environment. You should also wear protective eyewear while playing sports, using power tools, or doing yard work to protect your eyes from damage.
Schedule Your Eye Exam Today!
If you think you may have a corneal abrasion or you are due for an annual eye exam, contact us today to schedule your appointment!