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 Corneal Abrasion

What are the characteristics of corneal abrasion?
How long does it take to heal?
What measures can prevent corneal abrasions?

A corneal abrasion is a scraped, scratched, or torn area of the corneal surface (named the epithelium), usually resulting from an injury such as a finger in the eye, a tree branch, flying glass, or damage from a contact lens. In some corneal abrasions, the Bowman's membrane, which is a layer just below the epithelium, may also be damaged. The cornea contains more nerve endings than virtually any other part of the body. Therefore, damage to the cornea is extremely painful. Corneal abrasion is one of the most common injuries to the eye. (See Anatomy of the Eye.)

What are the characteristics of corneal abrasion?

The most common symptoms of a corneal abrasion are redness, pain, blurred vision, excessive tears, sensitivity to light, or a feeling that an object is in the eye. Most such abrasions occur in one eye only, and many result from wearing contact lenses improperly.

How long does it take to heal?

In many cases, depending on the severity, the cornea will heal completely in 24 to 48 hours, leaving no permanent damage. However, if the pain is severe or persistent, contact an eye doctor to decide if treatment is required. An anesthetic eye drop is used during the examination to ease the pain, and the most common treatment is antibiotic drops or ointment to prevent infection.

The eye is normally covered with a tight patch after treatment to prevent the eyelid from moving. This patch is usually worn for at least 24 hours to prevent the healing cells from being disturbed and causing continuing problems. New cells require time to reconnect to the undamaged layers of the cornea. Contact lens wearers should not wear lenses for at least 24 hours following treatment, because the contacts could slow the healing process. Medications may also stain or cloud soft lenses.

Superficial abrasions rarely cause permanent loss of vision. However, it may take several weeks for clear vision to return, and it is imperative during the healing process not to rub your eyes.

Sometimes, long after an abrasion has healed, it can recur spontaneously. This recurrence can appear when you wake up in the morning. It happens when an area of the epithelium has not reconnected to the deeper parts of the cornea. Treatment is similar to that for the original abrasion. The eye care professional can use a special instrument to help form better connections between corneal layers. Ointments and/or lubricants may also help in preventing recurrent erosions.

What measures can prevent corneal abrasions?

Corneal abrasions can often be prevented with a few precautions.

  • Exercise extreme care when using any objects near the eyes.
  • Wear protective goggles when working around any materials that may fly up near the eyes.
  • Trim low-hanging tree branches in the yard.
  • Wear goggles or glasses when walking through areas of heavy brush.
  • If you wear contact lenses, be careful putting them in and taking them out.
  • Keep the fingernails of infants and small children clipped short.

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