Eye injuries such as a corneal abrasion are scary, but are much more common than you may think. Injuries to the front of the eye can happen several different ways; scratches to the front surface, foreign objects, such as metal, embedded in the ocular tissue, or chemical burns, just to name a few. Burns and foreign objects can be emergencies that should be quickly addressed by an eye care professional. While scratches to the front surface of the eye are very uncomfortable and can be quite frightening, they are usually uncomplicated and quickly fixed. Read on to learn more about scratches to the front of the eye, and what to do if it happens to you.
Eye Scratches: Small Injuries Can Still be Painful
When a scratch affects the front surface of the eye, it is known by eye care professionals as a corneal abrasion. Abrasions are one of the most common eye injuries, but luckily are relatively easy to manage. Many different things can cause an abrasion: fingernails, tree branches, pet paws, children’s toys… the list could go on and on. Any object that comes in contact with the corneal surface with too much force has the potential to damage the outermost layer of the cornea, resulting in an abrasion.
A corneal abrasion will initially result in moderate discomfort. The eye will likely become quite red and bloodshot, and abrasions usually cause the eye to become extremely sensitive to light. Most of the time vision will be blurred through the injured eye. Because the corneal tissue has thousands of nerves and is very sensitive, even the smallest injury can cause extreme pain and discomfort.
What to Do if it Happens to You
If you think you scratched the front surface of your eye, you’ll need to see your eye doctor to address the problem. From there, a few different things can happen. Treatment and follow-up appointments will depend on a few different things, like how big the scratch is.
In most cases, regardless of the size of the corneal abrasion, an antibiotic drop or ointment will be prescribed to be used several times a day. This prevents something simple like a scratch from becoming a more serious problem, like a corneal infection. If the scratch is rather large and you are in a lot of pain, your eye doctor may give you a drop that dilates your pupil. If this is the case, your pupil may stay dilated for up to several days; this drop works to stabilize the eye and help reduce pain. They may also recommend pain relievers or prescribe specific eye drops to provide relief. Finally, if the scratch is large, and is therefore more prone to infection, the doctor may recommend what is known as a “bandage” contact lens to protect the eye as it heals.
The cornea is able to heal itself very quickly, so pain and discomfort due to abrasions typically does not last long. Your doctor will want to re-evaluate you a few days after the incident to ensure that the healing process is on the right track, and they will want to continue checking you every few days until the cornea is completely healed. Antibiotic eye drops may need to be continued for several days, even after the cornea has completely healed.