Accidents happen. Even if we are extremely careful and take all the necessary precautions, injuries can still occur; eye injuries are no exception. From metallic foreign bodies to chemical burns, the front of the eye is particular susceptible to damage during unexpected injuries. One of the most common forms of injuries to the front of the eye is a scratch to the outermost surface, known as a corneal abrasion. When a corneal abrasion occurs, the epithelium, or the thin protective layer of the cornea, is broken, causing many uncomfortable symptoms. Luckily, simple corneal abrasions are usually quick and uncomplicated in their resolution. Read on to learn about how to deal with a scratched ocular surface.
What Causes Corneal Abrasions?
Corneal abrasions are far more common than you may think. Nearly anything coming into contact with the front of the eye can create a scratch in the corneal surface. Most commonly, fingernails, branches, pet claws, or makeup applicators are the culprits for these injuries. When an object has enough force to damage the corneal epithelium, or the outermost later of the cornea, the result is a corneal abrasion, and symptoms will likely occur immediately. The front surface of the eye is home to thousands of very sensitive nerves, so even the smallest corneal abrasion can result immediately in significant discomfort. It is common for the eye to also become very bloodshot, and bright lights may be very irritating or even painful to look at. Commonly, a corneal abrasion results in blurred vision through the affected eye. If an object comes into contact with the front of your eye and you begin to experience symptoms such as these, it is time to call your eye doctor for an immediate check-up.
Be Prepared: How to Deal with a Scratched Cornea
An immediate visit to your family optometrist is the best course of action in the event of a corneal abrasion. While urgent care clinics may be able to provide temporary relief or prescribe an eye drop, they are usually not equipped with the proper instruments to closely evaluate a corneal injury. At your optometrist’s office, the size and depth of the scratch can be assessed and an appropriate treatment can be determined. Small corneal abrasions may only require an antibiotic eye drop to be used a few times a day to prevent this small problem from becoming a more serious one, such as an infection. If the injury is much larger, your eye doctor may choose to use antibiotic drops in conjunction with a “bandage contact lens” on your eye. A bandage contact lens is simply a regular contact lens that can be temporarily slept in, and is used to prevent further disruption or infection as the healing process begins. Larger injuries that are causing significant pain may warrant a cycloplegic eye drop, which dilates the pupil for an extended period of time and reduces discomfort as the abrasion heals.
Luckily, the corneal epithelium is one of the quickest healing tissues in the body. Within a few days, the epithelium is able to regenerate cells and mend the abrasion, so discomfort due to these injuries rarely lasts long. Your optometrist will likely want to follow up with you a day or two after the injury to ensure the healing process is occurring appropriately and without infection.