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Corneal abrasion

A corneal abrasion is a painful scrape or scratch on the surface of the clear part of the eye. This clear tissue of the eye is known as the cornea. This transparent window covers the iris, the circular coloured portion of the eye.


Corneal abrasion causes

A corneal abrasion may occur when something hits your eye. For example, if you were out walking and the person in front of you let go of a tree branch, it could hit your eye and cause an abrasion to your cornea.

  • A corneal injury may occur when something gets into your eye. For example, when the wind blows a dried leaf particle into your eye or when paint chips fall into your eye while you are scraping off old paint. This material may scratch the cornea.
  • A foreign body, such as a piece of sand or wood, may lodge under the upper lid and cause scratches of the corneal surface every time that you blink.
  • In addition to causing corneal injury, high-speed particles may penetrate your eye and injure deeper structures. An example of this would be a small metal fragment flying into the eye when a person is using a grinding wheel without protective eyewear. This may cause a serious injury and demands immediate medical attention to guard against permanent loss of vision.
  • Hot cigarette ash flying into the eye may cause a corneal abrasion.
  • A common cause of a corneal abrasion is a young child accidentally poking you in the eye.
  • You may cause a corneal abrasion when you rub your eyes excessively when they are irritated.
  • Wearing contact lenses longer than recommended may injure the corneal surface.
  • Certain eye infections may also cause injury to the surface of the cornea. This injury, although not technically considered a corneal abrasion, may be temporary or permanent.
  • Exposure of the unprotected eye to ultraviolet light from sun lamps or welding arcs can cause changes in the corneal surface resembling corneal abrasions.


Corneal abrasion symptoms

If you sustain an injury to your eye, you might have a corneal abrasion. Some of the symptoms you may experience are:

  • Foreign body sensation in the eye (a feeling that there is something in your eye that you cannot get out). This feeling sometimes develops a few hours later rather than immediately after the apparent injury.
  • Tearing of the eyes
  • Blurred vision or loss of vision
  • Eye pain when exposed to a bright light
  • Spasm of the muscles surrounding your eye causing you to squint

When to seek medical care

You should see an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specialises in eye care and surgery) if you experience any of the following:

  • You have eye pain, with or without an associated eye injury.
  • You experience a sudden loss of vision or a sudden significant blurring of vision.
  • You receive an eye injury from high-speed equipment that could cause a fragment to go into your eye. The injury could be caused by a grinding wheel, from hammering metal or from carpentry sanding and sawing.
  • You have the feeling that there is something in your eye and you cannot get it out.
  • Exposure to sunlight or bright indoor lights causes severe eye pain.
  • Your eyes are red.
  • Your pain lasts more than a few hours or is severe. You should also seek medical help if you have eye pain and do not recall any injury to your eye.
  • Chemical or heat burn to your eye.
  • An old eye injury which starts to hurt again.

You should go to a hospital's A&E department if you experience any of the above and are unable to see an ophthalmologist. Your GP can refer you to an ophthalmologist.

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