Understanding a Corneal Scratch

If you've ever had something stuck in your eye, you'll remember the unpleasant sensation very well. When foreign objects enter this fragile part of your body, the involuntary response can be overwhelming: stinging, tears, sensitivity to light, a gritty feeling, red eye, or swollen eyelids. If the feeling doesn't go away within a few seconds, you may have an abrasion on the outer layers of your cornea—better known as a corneal scratch.

How Corneal Scratches Happen

Most minor eye injuries occur while people do their everyday tasks:

  • applying makeup
  • working
  • touching eyes
  • playing games or sports
  • wearing dirty contact lenses
  • wearing contacts improperly
  • holding babies and children
  • mowing, landscaping, gardening

Your cornea's outer layer, or epithelium, contains thousands of little nerve endings. This is why a corneal scratch is so painful and can ruin an otherwise pleasant day. When something has scratched your eye, you'll certainly know. So when should you worry?


Your eyes are remarkably good at coping with problems. Immediately, nearby healthy cells approach the injury to patch the scratch before bacteria can enter. If the scratch is superficial you'll experience relief within a few moments of rest and can resume your activities.

If any of the listed symptoms lasts for more than a few moments, you should contact your eye doctor right away.

If the scratch is profound, and treatment is not sought, or the cornea is scratched repeatedly, bacteria or fungi can enter and lead to keratitis, an infection of the eye, according to the National Institute of Health.

When your doctor sees you, she'll remove the foreign body safely, assess the depth of the damage, and prescribe antibacterial eye drops. Antibiotic and antifungal treatments can also help fight infection, and steroids are an option to diminish inflammation. You may need to be seen multiple times for followups so that the doctor can monitor healing.

Scratch That

Before you get to that point, consider what you can do to prevent abrasions. Wear safety goggles when doing yard work, using cement, working with power tools, gardening, playing sports, or doing any activity which might cause small particles to fly.

Also, eliminate distractions from your daily routine. If you're applying makeup or playing sports, for example, give it your full attention and don't try to do other things simultaneously. Multitasking compromises your performance and raises the risk of slip-ups.

Sometimes, people don't want to visit the doctor because they know that they were negligent with their own preventative measures. Be assured that your doctor has seen it all, and at Woodhams, you'll be educated, not lectured. Don't let a treatable problem snowball out of control from lack of treatment.

Prevention is the best medicine, but if you're ever in pain for more than a few moments, the best thing to do is call your eye doctor, who is ready to ease your discomfort.