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What Patients Need to Know About Corneal Abrasions

Posted on: April 15th, 2024 by Our Team

A corneal abrasion is a scratch to the epithelium.  The cornea is made up of five layers and the epithelium is the outermost layer of the cornea that is exposed to the environment.  It can be vulnerable to scratches that can tear this delicate tissue and can potentially lead to infection.  Scratches can result from multiple sources, including, but not limited to, contact with dust, dirt, sand, wood shavings, plant matter, metal particles, contact lenses or even the edge of a piece of paper.  In addition, injuries from fingernails (often from babies), toys and chemical splashes can cause corneal abrasions.

Common symptoms from a corneal abrasion include pain that can be significant.  In addition, symptoms may include a sensation of a foreign body feeling like it’s present, coupled with redness, tearing and sensitivity to light.  In order to properly diagnose a corneal abrasion, a detailed slit-lamp exam is conducted that can reveal an abrasion, erosion or a dystrophy.

Treatment for this Condition

In many instances, the abrasion can heal spontaneously.  The healing process, however, needs to be supervised by a physician in order to reduce the risk of an eye infection and to also monitor and reduce the pain.  Often, antibiotic eyedrops are prescribed.  In some instances, a bandage contact lens may be appropriate.  The degree of healing is dependent on multiple factors.  For example, the size of the abrasion and the overall health of the cornea and in general the patient’s health will impact the rate of healing.  Healing can take place as fast as 24-48 hours for younger patients. Conditions such as diabetes can be associated with delayed healing which increases the risk of infections as well as non-infectious complications.

Can Corneal Abrasions be Prevented?

It may be a challenge to simply say avoid accidental trauma.  On the other hand, proactive measures can be taken during high-risk activities by wearing safety goggles.  Such activities may include mowing the lawn, gardening, sewing or any type of activity where debris is susceptible to flying at high speeds.  There are instances where a baby may poke parents’ eyes.  Thus, it is always advisable to keep a baby’s nails shortly clipped.

For those patients who may be predisposed to spontaneous abrasions, medical and at times surgical treatment can reduce the risk of recurrences.

Risk Factors

The majority of corneal abrasions result from accidental or non-accidental trauma.  In rare instances, after a traumatic corneal abrasion heals, a new, spontaneous abrasion may develop in the same area months or even years later.  Other types of non-traumatic abrasions can result from a condition called Epithelial Basement Membrane Dystrophy.  In some cases where corneal edema or swelling is evident, spontaneous abrasions may also form.

It is vital that abrasions are treated properly by an ophthalmologist.  If you, a family member, friend or colleague encounter accidental or even non-accidental trauma and are experiencing any of these symptoms, we recommend you be examined as soon as possible by Union Square Eyecare Physicians.  The consequences of waiting indefinitely will not only result in increased pain, but potentially lead to infections and other problems that will inevitably worsen if not properly diagnosed and treated at the onset of symptoms.

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