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What is a Corneal Abrasion?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2016
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A corneal abrasion is a puncture, scratch, or scrape on the cornea, the transparent area of the eye that covers the pupil and iris. Abrasions are very common injuries that can be caused by getting dirt or other particles in the eye, trauma, or irritation from wearing contact lenses. A damaged cornea can cause the eye to be sensitive to light, turn red, itch, and produce excessive tears. Most injuries heal by themselves within a few days without treatment, but a severe corneal abrasion may require emergency medical care to remove foreign particles and prevent infection.

Doctors recognize many types of eye injury and categorize them based on their underlying cause and where the eye is affected. An injury is classified as a corneal abrasion if only the surface layer of corneal tissue is damaged. A scratch can result from direct trauma to the eye, such as getting poked with a finger or running into a tree branch. Dirt, sawdust, fiberglass shards, and other airborne particles can also enter the eye and cause a corneal abrasion. In addition, a contact lens that constantly rubs on the cornea or a condition that causes dry eye may lead to abrasions.

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A person usually notices eye pain immediately following an injury. The eye may be sensitive to light, produce tears, and feel itchy for several hours following an injury. The symptoms of a mild corneal abrasion usually go away in less than two days with home care. Sometimes, a foreign particle can be large enough to see and be carefully removed with the corner of a sterile paper towel or cloth. Rinsing the eye with cool water and using over-the-counter moisturizing drops can help soothe pain and itchiness.

If symptoms do not resolve or vision becomes blurry, an individual should visit the emergency room or an ophthalmologist as soon as possible to receive expert treatment. A doctor can inspect the eye with a specialized magnifying glass and determine the extent of the injury. If it is suspected that eye damage is deeper than the corneal layer, the doctor can administer a computerized tomography or magnetic resonance imaging scan. Treatment measures depend on the cause and severity of an injury.

If a patient has a foreign object in his or her eye, the ophthalmologist can remove it using precision surgical instruments. Eye scrapes and scratches are treated by administering topical antibiotic drops or creams to prevent infection. A serious abrasion may require the patient to wear a patch or bandage for several days to prevent irritation from air and light. With immediate treatment, severe corneal abrasions usually heal within two weeks and require no further care.

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