A scratched cornea, also called corneal abrasion, is one of the most common injuries to the eye and is a scratch on the eye. The cornea is the clear surface of the eye and when you have a scratch, it disrupts the protective outer layer. It creates an open wound, and this increases the risk of a serious eye infection. Therefore, it’s necessary to consult with an eye doctor if you think you have a scratched cornea.
What Causes a Scratched Cornea?
There are many ways you can get a scratched cornea. No matter how small or big, anything that comes in contact with the surface of the eye can cause a corneal abrasion. This can include sports equipment, workplace debris, a pet, a finger, makeup brushes, paper, or tree branches.
Many abrasions aren’t caused by a traumatic event, such as a poke in the eye. In fact, dust, sand, or other small particles are likely to cause a scratched cornea, especially if you frequently rub your eyes. Dry eyes increase the risk, especially if you frequently wake up with dry eyes. If your eyes dry out when you are sleeping, then your eyelids can stick to the cornea. When you wake up and open the eyes, the eyelids can tear the part of the cornea, and this causes pain. Contact lenses won’t do much to protect your eyes from scratches. If you are wearing damaged contacts or contacts for too long, then it can increase your chances of having a corneal abrasion.
You may increase your risk of getting a scratched cornea if you have a certain type of eye infection, play sports or other high risk physical activity without protective eyewear, overwear your contact lenses, or have surgery without the right eye protection.
Symptoms of a Scratched Cornea
When you have a scratched cornea, it will cause watery eyes, red eyes, significant discomfort, and light sensitivity. The cornea is a very sensitive part of the body so even just a tiny scratch can be extremely painful and cause you to feel like you have a rough, big object in the eye. Other symptoms include tearing, light sensitivity, decreased or blurry vision, redness, a dull ache, eye twitching, and even nausea. If you are experiencing these symptoms, then you should see an eye doctor as soon as possible.
What Can You Expect from a Corneal Abrasion?
Many people tend to rub their eyes when they feel like something is in the eye, but this can make your scratched cornea much worse. If you do have something in your eye then you should try to flush it out using clean water and not rub the eye. You don’t want to add a patch since this can increase the risk of an infection by speeding up the growth of bacteria. It’s best to rinse the eye with contact lens solution or sterile eye wash instead of bottled or tap water. Even in bottled water, there can be microorganisms and these can cause a vision-threatening infection, especially if you have a scratched cornea.
After you flush the eye, if the foreign body sensation, pain, or redness continues then you need immediate attention.
Diagnosing a Corneal Abrasion
In order to diagnose a scratched cornea, your eye doctor may use eye drops to numb the eye so you are able to keep it open for an exam. Eye drops that have a temporary dye can also be used in order for the optometrist to see the extent of the scratch. The dye in these eye drops helps make the abrasion more visible when your eye doctor views your eye with a blue light. Depending on what caused the scratch and what your doctor is seeing during the eye exam, your eye could be swabbed for a culture in order to make sure that you get the right treatment in case of infection.
When to Seek Immediate Care
You should seek emergency care if there is loss of vision, something hits your eye with high force or high speed, there is a foreign object lodged in your eye or underneath the eyelid, or there is vision loss. Also seek emergency care if there is pain or vision changes after trauma to the eyeball.
Treatment for Scratched Corneas
There are different treatments for corneal abrasion, depending on the cause and the severity. Minor abrasions can often be treated with some eye drops in order to keep your eyes comfortable and healing while nature runs its course, and the healing process happens naturally. Even if it is a minor scratch, antibiotic eye drops are usually prescribed as a precaution to help prevent any infection during the healing process. A superficial abrasion will heal rather quickly, usually within three days.
Some scratched corneas will require antibiotic drops that stay on the eye longer, something to relieve pain, and a steroid to decrease inflammation. Deep corneal abrasions take longer to heal and can sometimes cause a permanent scar that affects vision. In a few cases, corneal abrasions are treated with bandage contact lenses. When these are used with prescription eye drops, these lenses can speed up
healing and provide pain relief. You don’t want to wear regular contact lenses over a corneal abrasion since doing so increases the infection risk. Your eye doctor will let you know when you should resume wearing contact lenses after a corneal abrasion.
Depending on the severity and treatment, eye doctors may also schedule follow-up exams in order to make sure that the eye is healing properly. When a scratched cornea is treated right away, many can be healed without any permanent vision loss. Some deeper abrasions that happen directly in the front of the pupil in the center of the cornea can leave scars and result in vision problems.
It’s important to properly treat a corneal abrasion since if left untreated, it can lead to a corneal ulcer. This results in severe vision loss. Any abrasions that are caused by organic matter can also increase the risk of a corneal ulcer. You should follow your eye doctor’s recommendations for treatment and attend follow-up visits as needed. Sometimes, scratched corneas don’t heal properly and there may be other complications, such as recurrent corneal erosion, that can affect health, vision, and comfort.
While the eye is healing, you don’t want to rub the eye or wear your contact lenses. You should wear sunglasses to ease any uncomfortable feelings when in the sunlight. Report unusual symptoms, such as pain returning after treatment, to your eye doctor.
How to Prevent Scratched Corneas
It’s possible to avoid getting corneal abrasions with some common-sense practices. You should always wear protective goggles or safety glasses in work environments that have any debris, especially in welding environments. You should also wear protective eyewear when using power tools, playing sports, or doing yard work. Remember that contact lenses don’t provide you with any protection so even if you wear contact lenses, you should still be wearing protective eyewear in these situations. If you do wear contact lenses, follow your doctor’s instructions on how long you should wear them, the proper care needed, and when to discard them. If you do feel any symptoms of a scratched cornea that is related to dry eyes, make sure you are following the protocols recommended by your eye doctor for dry eye.
Contact Florida Eye Specialists and Cataract Institute
Even though a mild scratched cornea can clear up in a few days without a lot of intervention, it’s still important to see an eye doctor as soon as possible to make sure that it’s not serious and you don’t have any infection that could lead to long-term vision problems. The eye doctors at Florida Eye Specialists and Cataract Institute are here to help with cornea abrasion symptoms. Contact us today.