Most of the time, when we think, “I think I scratched my eye,” what we’re referring to is the cornea. While eye injuries that go deeper than the cornea can cause a lot more damage, a scratched cornea, also known as a corneal abrasion, isn’t so great, either.
Corneas are the clear front surface of the eye, covering the iris and pupil. They are made up of five thin layers that allow light to filter into the eye. They are also remarkably delicate, and it’s unsurprising that so many people end up with corneal abrasions.
If you can’t make it to a doctor right away or don’t think a doctor’s visit is necessary, there are a few ways that you can treat your corneal abrasion at home. That being said, there are some clear signs that you need to go to a doctor, after all.
We’ve put together some information on corneal abrasion treatment that will help you keep an eye on your scratched cornea!
Causes and Signs
Before we get into treatment, we’re going to talk about some of the ways that corneal abrasions can occur and how to identify them.
Corneal abrasions are frequently caused by getting a foreign object trapped beneath the eyelid. This could be anything from a grain of sand to an eyelash. Even soft objects like dust particles can scratch your cornea.
You can also cause corneal abrasions by rubbing your eyes too hard, wearing contact lenses that are dried out or dirty, or poking your eye with something pointed like a mascara wand or a pencil. Basically, if your cornea comes into contact with anything solid besides your eyelid, it can become scratched.
Chronic dry eye can also lead to corneal abrasions. Talk to your eye doctor if you think you may have chronic dry eye.
Of course, you may feel irritation if a foreign object is still stuck on your cornea even if it hasn’t scratched your cornea. How do you tell the difference?
Corneal abrasions will often cause sustained pain or a gritty feeling in the eye. You may also find that your eye is very red or producing too many tears.
Severe corneal abrasions can also cause photophobia, which is a sensitivity to light. If this photophobia becomes bad enough, you may develop light headaches to full-blown migraines.
While corneal abrasions can be easy to identify, getting a comprehensive eye exam can help rule out any other possibilities you may be concerned about.
Home Treatment Tips
In most cases, corneal abrasions will be able to heal themselves over time as long as you take care of them properly. We’re going to walk you through some of the ways you can treat your scratched cornea at home.
Cleaning the Injured Eye
To begin, try not to touch your eye with your fingers. It’s tempting to get right in there and dig around for whatever foreign object may be irritating you, but that’s only going to make it worse.
Instead, try to rinse your eye out. A saline solution (like contact solution) works best.
To properly flush out your eye, use an eyecup or small, sanitized glass and hold it against the bone beneath your eye socket. With your upper eyelid held away from the cornea, tip the glass so that the saline solution washes out your eye.
You can use water, but make sure it’s clean. Even tap water that is safe to drink can contain bacteria that could further irritate or infect your eye. Bottled water is a safer bet, although saline solution is still preferable.
Encourage Quicker Healing
If you wear contacts, take them out and use your prescription glasses until the abrasion has healed. Try not to let anything solid come into contact with your eyes.
Use lubricating eye drops to keep your eye moist. These over the counter drops won’t fix the abrasion but they will keep your eye comfortable during the healing process.
Try to rest your eyes as much as possible for a few days. Don’t do anything that can cause eye strain like reading or staring at a computer screen. Keep your eyes closed as much as you can throughout the day.
Avoid These Mistakes
A big part of treating a corneal abrasion at home is not making the problem worse while your eye naturally heals. As we’ve mentioned already, avoid touching your eye with your fingers and wearing contact lenses.
You should also be careful about the way you clean your eye during this time. Do not towel dry it after showers because your towel may shed small fibers that can also get trapped beneath the eyelid. Do not use cotton swabs or tissues to wipe away tears or lubricating drops.
If you are experiencing pain, take over-the-counter pain medication. Do not apply hot or cold pads to the area unless instructed to by an eye doctor.
Finally, don’t hesitate to call your eye doctor if the problem gets worse!
How Eye Doctors Can Help
If you do decide to make an appointment with your eye doctor, they will first need to diagnose the problem and make sure it’s nothing more than an abrasion.
They may use numbing eye drops that will help you keep your eye open during an exam. They may also use a special eye drop that will help them to view the extent of the damage with a blue light and slit lamp. Neither of these diagnostic procedures will cause you any pain.
If your eye doctor suspects a possible infection in or near the abrasion, they may swipe your eye with a swab that can be tested for cultures. Depending on the results, they may give you antibiotic drops to help clear away the infection.
For more severe corneal abrasions, you may be given an antibiotic ointment to apply to the affected eye for a few days. If you’re experiencing inflammation, you will likely be prescribed a steroid.
You may even be given a bandage lens to use with your prescription eye drops. This lens will ensure that the drops are staying where they’re supposed to while protecting the cornea from outside objects. If used properly, they can speed up the healing process.
Even if you’re not experiencing severe symptoms, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your eye doctor. If your symptoms are severe, you may have a corneal laceration, in which case you absolutely have to see your eye doctor right away.
Many of the symptoms of a corneal abrasion, such as pain and photophobia, are also present when you have a corneal laceration. The biggest difference? They’ll probably be much more severe, and may even include bleeding in the eye.
Corneal lacerations are partial or full cuts across the cornea. If they’re bad enough, they can even cut the eye, itself.
Chances are, you’ll know if this has occurred. Unlike corneal abrasions, which can be caused by microscopic objects, corneal lacerations are caused by sharp or forceful objects hitting the eye directly. That’s a big, “Ouch!”
Corneal lacerations require surgery to seal the cut and protect the eye from infection. They are much more likely to cause vision damage or loss than abrasions.
After surgery, you may have to wear an eye patch for a week or two and take medication for the pain. Your eye doctor will want to schedule follow-up appointments to check for related issues like detached retinas and glaucoma.
How to Minimize Corneal Abrasions
Some people are more at risk of corneal abrasions than others. People who work in construction, factory, or laboratory settings and athletes tend to be the most at risk.
Why? Because they’re surrounded by airborne debris that can either get stuck under the eyelids or hit the eyes with great force.
Anytime you are in a situation that puts your eyes at risk, wear the appropriate protective gear. Secure and well-fitting goggles are the best way to prevent corneal abrasions.
If you wear contact lenses, make sure you are cleaning them daily, taking them out to sleep, and replacing them when needed. If they feel dry or appear dirty, clean them more thoroughly or allow them to soak in solution longer. If this doesn’t help, throw them out and grab a new pair.
Make an Appointment
If you find yourself saying, “I think I scratched my eye,” don’t ignore it or make it worse. Corneal abrasions can be simple to fix, but if they get out of hand, they can cause worse problems and damage your vision permanently!
Why take the risk? Follow the home treatment tips we’ve discussed here and try not to further irritate your eye.
If you’re having cornea trouble and don’t know where to look, contact us today!