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The cornea is a thin, transparent dome that covers your eye’s iris and pupil. The iris is the colored part of your eye, and the pupil is the black center. All light that enters your eye and allows you to see strikes your cornea first.
Flying dust, specks of metal, grains of sand, a fingernail, an animal claw, or other foreign objects can scratch your cornea. Contact lenses can also scratch or irritate your cornea. A minor scratch is called a corneal abrasion. Most corneal abrasions are minor and heal quickly.
Sometimes a corneal abrasion is accompanied by inflammation in your eye. This is called iritis. An infected corneal abrasion can also become a corneal ulcer. These are serious conditions that can develop from a corneal abrasion.
Your cornea contains many nerve endings, so even a minor scratch may feel very uncomfortable and painful. It may feel like there’s something large and rough in your eye, even if you can’t see it.
If you have sudden eye pain with tears and rapid blinking, as well as some eye redness, you may have a scratched cornea. You should see your doctor as soon as possible.
To diagnose a corneal abrasion and examine your eye, your doctor will give you eye drops to relax your eye muscles and widen your pupil. They will also give you fluorescent drops to highlight imperfections in the surface of your cornea. You may also receive a corneal anesthetic to temporarily ease pain. Then your doctor will carefully examine your eye, using a special lamp and magnification tools, to check for scratches and foreign matter.
If you scratch your eye, or get something in your eye, rinse it with clean water or saline solution immediately. Blinking several times may help remove sand, grit, or other foreign matter from your eye. Don’t rub your eye, touch your eyeball, or put any other solutions or substances on your eye.
If your doctor diagnoses you with a corneal abrasion, they will check for signs of infection. They will also decide if you need a topical antibiotic in the form of eye drops. If your abrasion is severe, you may receive a prescription for eye drops to relieve pain and sensitivity to light. You may also receive a prescription for pain medication. In most cases, your cornea will heal quickly, usually within several days.
To prevent eye injuries, wear protective eyewear while mowing the lawn, working with tools, or using toxic chemicals or welding gear. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of a corneal abrasion, see a doctor right away for further evaluation.
Written by: Maureen Ash
Medically reviewed on: May 11, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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