What Causes a Scratched Cornea

While getting a scratch on another area of your body is usually a minor problem that often even goes unnoticed, a scratch on your eye could result in severe pain and discomfort. Read on to learn more about what the cornea is, how it can become scratched and what you can do to help a scratched cornea heal.

Understanding the Eye

Human eyes are very complex organs that are made up of many different parts that need to be functioning properly in order for us to see correctly. The cornea is the outermost layer of the eye and is equipped with various nerve endings that allow it to sense touch, changes in temperature and irritation and scratches. Along with the underlying lens, the cornea refracts light to help us see (Institute of Vision and Optics).

What Causes a Scratched Cornea

Although the cornea has built-in reflexes that trigger your eyelids to close when a foreign object comes toward your eye, this process doesn’t always happen fast enough to keep harmful particles out of your eye. This is what happens when dirt, an eyelash or even a small bug get caught in your eye and cause temporary discomfort. Usually, these objects are fairly easy to remove either using your fingertip or by blinking a few extra times.

In other cases, though, a foreign object that comes into contact with your eye can cause a scratch, or corneal abrasion. Objects such as woodchips or metal shards can easily scratch your eye if your eyelid doesn’t close in time enough to keep them out. But sharp objects like these aren’t the only way that a corneal abrasion can happen. When sand or dirt particles get stuck in your eye, rubbing or blinking excessively to remove them can also cause an abrasion.

Signs of a Corneal Abrasion

When your cornea becomes scratched, you may notice these common symptoms, which can range from mild to severe:

  • Pain and/or discomfort
  • Redness
  • Watering
  • Sensitivity to light
  • A feeling that there is grit in your eye
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Treating a Scratched Cornea

As soon as you notice any of the above symptoms, the first step is to flush the eye to try to remove any particles that may still be in your eye. To do this:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Submerge your eye in water and blink several times.
  3. Use a gentle eye area cleanser such as Cliradex Light Foam to help prevent infection. If you don’t have access to water immediately, using a portable product like Cliradex Towelettes on the skin around the eye can be helpful.

If you can’t see any physical object in your eye but you’re still experiencing pain and other symptoms, it is likely that your cornea is scratched. Because the eye will likely be sensitive to light, it is generally recommended that you wear a patch over the affected eye for at least 24 hours so that the eyelid can stay shut and begin to heal on its own (Discovery Eye Foundation).

If your symptoms persist or get worse over the next day or two, consult your doctor or eye specialist. He or she can provide a full assessment of your eye, locate the problem and prescribe the appropriate treatment regimen to help your cornea heal.

In Summary

Even the smallest of scratches in the eye can result in discomfort and pain, so try to prevent them from happening whenever possible. Wearing protective glasses when weed whacking, cutting wood or metal or performing other similar activities can greatly reduce the chances that you will develop a corneal abrasion.

Sometimes, though, a scratched cornea will happen no matter how careful you are, so it’s good to know what to do just in case. Keeping a package of Cliradex Towelettes handy is also a good idea if you know you’ll be working outside any may get something in your eye that needs to be washed out.