A corneal abrasion is a scratch or a scrape on the surface of the cornea. It can be caused by everyday occurrences that may not seem very significant at the time. However, if you suffer any sort of eye injury you should not ignore it, as it can lead to infection.
The ‘rough and tumble’ nature of children at play means that a corneal abrasion is the most common eye injury experienced by adolescents.
For adults, contact lenses are the most common cause of corneal abrasions, particularly if you leave them in longer than recommended. Hard or soft contact lenses that are improperly fitted or not cleaned properly may also cause a scratch on the surface of your eye.
Typical events that can cause a corneal abrasion include:
Because there are sensitive nerves in the cornea, an abrasion can be quite painful. It may feel as though you have ‘sand in your eye’.
The affected eye will also water profusely. Blurred vision, increased sensitivity and redness are also typical signs of a corneal abrasion.
If you suffer from a scratch or an injury to the surface of your eye, don’t rub your eye or touch your cornea with anything, not even a cotton swab.
Start by rinsing the eye thoroughly with clean water – if you think you have a foreign object in your eye, this may flush the object out. If you have dust or grit in your eye, blinking may move it. If you have a foreign object lodged under your eyelid, pulling your upper eyelid over your lower eyelid may also dislodge it.
If none of this helps, it’s important to see your GP or optometrist immediately. They will check your eye to see if the foreign body is still present, and may prescribe antibiotic drops or ointment to protect your eye against an infection.
If a foreign object is embedded in your cornea, do not attempt to remove it – go directly to the emergency ward.
If you suffer a serious corneal abrasion, you may be given a “bandage contact lens”. This is preferred over an eye patch because it provides oxygen to the cornea, can be fitted tightly, and decreases the risk of corneal hypoxia and oedema. It can also decrease the pain and allows drops to be administered.
Those who experience recurrent corneal erosions (such as sufferers of specific types of corneal dystrophy, especially epithelial basement membrane dystrophy) may benefit from a specialised form of treatment called alcohol delamination or laser surgery, known as phototherapeutic keratectomy.
If the abrasion is caused by a foreign body, there will most likely be no complications once it is removed. However, if your eye becomes infected, a corneal ulcer may occur.
If your eye suffers an abrasion due to contact lenses, your cornea is especially susceptible to bacterial infection. This infection can potentially accelerate very quickly, so you must seek treatment immediately.
Occasionally, the healed epithelium may adhere poorly to the underlying basement membrane of the cornea and can be easily peeled off with minimal trauma. This can lead to recurrent corneal erosions.
Corneal abrasions are the most common type of eye injury, yet they are often not properly treated. No matter how minor the injury seems at the time, it’s important to see your GP or optometrist, to make sure it doesn’t develop into a bigger problem.