What Should You Do If You've Scratched Your Cornea?

Your cornea is the clear, protective layer of your eye, covering the iris. Fortunately, with a little prompt action, a scratched cornea will usually heal quickly, without long term damage. This is what you should know about how to treat a corneal abrasion.

How Do You Know You Have A Corneal Abrasion?

Scratched corneas can happen for all sorts of reasons. You may have had sand or dirt blown into your eyes by the wind, or you might have gotten scratched when you picked up your 2-year-old nephew and he accidentally poked you in the eye. You can also get a corneal abrasion just by rubbing your eye in your sleep. Since the cause of the scratch may not be clear, it's important to pay attention to the symptoms. In addition to pain, they include:

  • usually only one eye is affected
  • both eyes may tear up, but the affected eye will be a lot worse
  • your eye may spasm and be difficult to open
  • bright light is painful
  • your eye will redden and may be inflamed and swollen
  • your eye will often feel like there is something in it (even if there isn't)

What Should You Do At Home?

There are several steps that you should take right away if you think that you may have a scratched cornea.

  1. Rinse your eye out with bottled water (or clean tap water if you don't have bottled water available).
  2. Make sure that there's no visible foreign matter in your eye.
  3. If there is a visible foreign substance in your eye that doesn't just wash out, seek immediate medical attention. 
  4. Don't attempt to remove it yourself. You can seriously injure your eye that way.
  5. Use over-the-counter eye drops to lubricate your eye and ease the pain.
  6. Keep your eye closed as much as possible to let it heal. Don't read or drive until your eye is better.
  7. Call your eye doctor and explain the situation. Ask for an emergency appointment.

Why You Need To See Your Eye Doctor

Corneal abrasions usually heal within 24 to 72 hours, but you should have your eye doctor look at your eye to examine and treat the wound.

  • Antibiotic ointments can be placed in your eye to prevent infection. Bacteria can easily creep into the scratch and lead to major complications healing, and even blindness.
  • Steroid drops can be used to reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • If the scratch is deep or wide, your eye doctor may put a contact lens over it until you heal. That will protect your eye from bacteria or additional injury.
  • Pain pills may be prescribed. Corneal abrasions can be much more painful than people realize, because there are so many nerve endings in the cornea.

Aside from infection, your eye doctor like one from DC Eye Associates will want to make sure that you don't develop a corneal erosion. A corneal erosion can occur if the scratch on your eye doesn't heal properly and the fragile outermost cells, called the epithelium, fail to firmly attach to the cornea beneath.

Eye injuries hurt and they can be scary. However, a little self-care and prompt follow-up with your eye doctor can speed healing and prevent any long-term problems. Without complications, your eye will heal within a couple days.