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What is Corneal Abrasion?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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A corneal abrasion can be a very uncomfortable scratch that occurs on the eye’s cornea. This can happen in a variety of circumstances and is very often a treatable condition, though in the short run, it can also cause tremendous discomfort due to the many nerve endings in this part of the eye. It usually is a condition that needs diagnosis by an ophthalmologist or emergency room doctor, because it’s hard to tell how severe the scratch or if one exists. Moreover, some causes of the corneal abrasion aren’t that benign and could cause additional eye injury that needs to be addressed.

There are numerous ways to get a corneal abrasion. One of the simplest is getting something in the eye like a particle of sand, dust, a leaf, or even the chance poke of the finger into the eye where fingernail scratches the cornea. Some exposure to solvents that are dangerous cause scratching of the cornea too, and if these are known eye irritants or poisons it becomes even more important to immediately head to a doctor for treatment. Anytime it might be necessary to remove something from the eye, like glass or a traces of a solvent, it is essential to have a doctor involved in the process.

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While some people may know they’ve gotten something in their eyes, other people don’t, and could suddenly manifest symptoms of a corneal abrasion. Whether injury is known or not, there are a number of potential symptoms. These include significant eye pain, tearing and redness in the affected eye, increased sensitivity to light, a persistent sensation that something is in the eye, and potentially greater activation or twitching of the muscles around the eye. Vision can also be affected and for this reason, people should make sure to have someone else drive them to the doctor or the emergency room.

When a doctor examines for this injury, the eye will be paralyzed briefly. An examination looks for evidence of scratches and evidence of any material left in the eye. If there is matter still creating the scratch, this could be removed via a variety of means.

Many people don’t have anything left in the eye and provided a scratch is minor, treatment can be fairly minimal. It might involve using antibiotic or steroid drops for a few days to accelerate healing. Some people find wearing a patch over the eye for a day is useful, though there is debate on the efficacy of this treatment. Less debatable is the recommendation of wearing sunglasses for a few days, which can help minimize sensitive reactions to strong light.

With a minor scratch, people are normally sent home with eyedrops and tend to recover in a couple of days. If the corneal abrasion is more severe, doctors might want to recheck the area a few days after a first examination. In rare instances a scratch might need additional treatment if healing does not occur swiftly.

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