A corneal abrasion is a scratch or cut on the surface of the cornea. The cornea is the clear part on the front of the eye. It covers the colored part of the eye (iris) and the pupil. [See figure 1]
The cornea has many nerve cells that transmit pain. These cells help us recognize that something foreign is in the eye before it damages the surface of the eye. Unfortunately they also make having a corneal abrasion a very painful experience.
Corneal abrasions are treated with antibiotic drops or ointment to protect against infection while new cells grow to replace the ones that were removed. Sometimes, depending on the size of the abrasion, a patch is placed over the closed lid. A patch helps to decrease pain and helps large abrasions heal faster. An eye should not be patched continuously for more than 24 hours. The patch should be removed at least daily and the antibiotic drop or ointment put in the eye again.
It depends on the size of the abrasion and the overall health of the cornea. An abrasion on a healthy cornea should heal in 1-5 days.
A dye called fluorescein is placed in the tears. The dye fills in the defect on the cornea. The dye fluoresces when a cobalt blue light is placed on the eye and in this way shows where the defect is [See figure 2].
A corneal erosion sometimes occurs in the area of the original abrasion after the defect has healed. The erosion happens because the abrasion healed imperfectly and the cells that grew back are not tightly attached to the cornea. The cells become detached from the cornea and an erosion occurs. Erosions can occur with little or no trauma to the eye. They often occur upon awakening. They are often as painful as the original abrasion.
Last Updated 2/2012
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