How to Detect and Treat a Corneal Scratch
Did you know that a corneal scratch, also known as a corneal abrasion, is one of the most common eye injuries in the workplace and is responsible for 2% of all visits to primary care clinics?
Workplace debris, makeup bushes, and fingernails are the most common causes of corneal scratches. However, many people aren’t familiar with the symptoms to watch out for, which can delay treatment.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about corneal scratches, including detection and treatment.
What Is a Corneal Scratch?
First, it’s essential to know more about what a corneal scratch actually is and how it can affect your eye. Your cornea is the clear center in the front of your eye. It’s the part of the eye that you see through.
The cornea also serves as a protective layer that sits over your eyeball.
When you have a corneal scratch, it disrupts the protective layer of cells in the outer portion of the cornea, known as the corneal epithelium. Most of the time, the damage from a scratched eye only affects the epithelium.
However, if you have a severe scratch, it can cause damage to other layers of your cornea.
Corneal Scratch Causes
You can get a corneal abrasion if the cornea is scraped or scratched by an object like a contact lens or a fingernail. You can also get a corneal abrasion from other objects or materials, such as:
- Metal particles
- Wood shavings
- Pine needles
- Twigs or plant matter
You can also cause a corneal abrasion by rubbing your eye too hard. In addition, wearing your contacts for too long or sleeping in them can increase your risk of cornea abrasion. This is because leaving contacts in your eyes causes them to dry out. When your eyes are too dry, your eyelids can stick to your cornea.
Some people get corneal abrasions with no apparent cause.
Corneal Scratch Symptoms
Your cornea contains many nerve fibers, so anything that disrupts the cornea’s surface causes intense pain and irritation. Even a minor injury to your cornea causes a substantial amount of pain. Most corneal abrasion symptoms include:
- Eye irritation and intense pain
- Tearing of the eye
- Eye redness
- Blurry vision after any eye injury
- Feeling like you have grit or sand in your eye
- You find a splinter or dirt particles in your eye
- Extreme sensitivity to light
If you experience these symptoms, you’ll need to see an experienced eye doctor in your area as soon as possible for an exam. If you can’t see an eye doctor immediately, you’ll need to visit an urgent care clinic.
Leaving a corneal abrasion untreated can lead to an infection, and a sore, known as a corneal ulcer. Corneal ulcers can lead to vision loss over time.
First Aid at Home
You should also take immediate steps at home, which include rinsing your eye with water or saline solution and then blinking several times. Doing this can dislodge any foreign objects stuck in your eye.
Be sure not to remove any object you see embedded in your eye. It’s also essential not to rub your eye or touch it with tweezers or other instruments.
Diagnosing a Corneal Scratch
Your eye doctor will numb your eye and examine it using a special blue light or a small flashlight. They’ll evaluate your injury and look for signs of any objects stuck in your eye.
If your doctor finds anything in your eye, they’ll use special tools to remove it safely. Finally, they’ll examine the rest of your eye to check for any other damage or infection.
Corneal Scratch Treatment
Treatment for corneal abrasions depends on the severity of the abrasion. Minor corneal abrasions are typically treated with lubricating drops to keep your eye moist while the natural healing process takes place.
Your eye doctor will also give you antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection as you heal, especially if the abrasion was due to dirt, debris, or from a workplace injury.
Severe corneal abrasions may need an antibiotic ointment since it stays on the eye longer. You also might need a steroid to decrease the inflammation in your eye. Some people must take pain medication for severe pain and burning from a deep scratch.
Sometimes, an eye doctor will use a bandage contact lens, which are special lenses that promote healing and provide pain relief.
Your eye doctor will advise you not to wear contacts while healing. Contacts can irritate the injury and increase your risk of infection. You’ll need to wait until your eye doctor tells you it’s safe to wear contacts again.
Depending on the severity of your injury, you’ll need several follow-up visits so your doctor can assess how the abrasion is healing. Most of the time, your eye doctor will want to see you 24 to 48 hours after your initial visit.
It’s essential to follow your eye doctor’s treatment recommendations and use all medications as directed. It’s also important not to miss any follow-up appointments. This is because corneal abrasions may not always heal properly and can affect your vision and overall eye comfort.
Superficial corneal abrasions typically heal within 2 to 3 days, while more significant abrasions can take 4 to 5 days. Usually, corneal abrasions heal without any complications.
However, some people have trouble with eye irritation after the corneal abrasion heals because the cornea’s surface isn’t as smooth as before the injury. In these cases, your eye doctor may recommend using eye drops to lubricate the eyes.
See an Eye Doctor Immediately if You Have Corneal Scratch Symptoms
Now that you know more about a corneal scratch, you’ll better understand what to do if you’re experiencing symptoms.
If you need to find a reputable doctor in your local area to evaluate your corneal abrasion symptoms, you can turn to Cedar Park Vision for all your eye care needs. We also offer comprehensive eye exams, vision correction, treatment of eye disease, cataract surgery, and more.
We’re dedicated to providing you with high-quality vision care and education while ensuring you feel comfortable in our office. Make sure to contact us today to schedule an appointment!