Scratch to the Eye Causes Symptoms Treating Corneal Abrasion

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female holding cat up to her face scratch to the eye

You’re putting on that pretty eyeliner when your cat jumps up and bumps your arm. Many situations can lead to your eye becoming scratched. Accidents will happen causing a scratch to the eye.

I have had this happen with a makeup brush, all me no cats involved. Being located front and center puts your cornea in  a vulnerable spot. It is so easy for objects to go into your eye.

When something does end up in your eye it is important to     take steps to prevent scratches to the cornea. Being outdoors you can always wear sunglasses to keep bugs out, flying leaves or seeds.  Wearing protective eye wear is a must with certain activities and sports.

What is the Cornea?

The cornea is the transparent layer of your eye located in  the front having a dome shape. It covers the iris, the colored area of your eye. In addition it protects the pupil, the black circle in the center  of your eye.

The anterior chamber containing the fluid inside  your eye is also included  under the cornea. As its main function it refracts, or bends, light. It has the responsibility for focusing most of the light that enters your eye.

Proteins and cells make up  the cornea. It contains no blood vessels like the other tissues  in your body. If this were the case these could cause clouding which may prevent it from refracting  light correctly affecting your vision.

Tears and aqueous humor (a watery fluid) in the anterior chamber provide nutrients to the cornea. The cornea is comprised of five layers.  It normally repairs quickly from minor abrasions. Deeper abrasions may develop with scars causing it to lose its transparency, leading to visual impairment.

What is Corneal Abrasion?

A corneal abrasion means you have scratched your eye. This can occur all of a sudden. You may have poked your eye with an object or someone’s elbow got in your way.

It could be possible you see a visible line. The scratch may also cause a spot of blood or redness. If a corneal abrasion should cause a scar on the cornea, this could permanently affect your vision.

  1. Corneal abrasion symptoms:

    • Redness
    • Tearing
    • Sensitivity to light
    • Headache
    • Blurry vision
    • Dull ache
    • Gritty feeling
    • Sensation that something is in the eye

What Causes Corneal Abrasion?

Sometimes dirt, sand or dust becomes trapped under your eyelid. Eye pain that doesn’t get better as you close it, if you can even keep it shut, may occur. Light can cause stinging and burning.

  1. A scratch may occur:

    • The eye was poked with a fingernail, pen or makeup brush
    • Chemicals get in your eye
    • Rubbing the eye too hard
    • Wearing poor fitted or dirty contact lenses
    • Certain kind of eye infection
    • Surgery without correct eye protection
    • Participate in sports or high risk physical activity without safety eyewear
    • Not taking a break from wearing contact lenses
    • Foreign object entering the eye
    • Sharp edge of paper
  1. These materials may scratch your cornea:

    • Dust
    • Dirt
    • Sand
    • Wood shavings
    • Metal particles

How Serious is a Scratched Eye?

The severity of corneal abrasion depends on the layer that was scratched. Your outermost layer, the epithelium, is like your skin. Beneath it lays the Bowman’s membrane.

The Bowman’s membrane is a protective fibrous layer. These two layers affect the majority of cases causing minor corneal abrasions. Usually the scratch here heals on its own about one to three days without any other issues.

If you have a lot of pain in your eye the corneal abrasion may have gone to deeper layers. Deeper abrasions require treatment. These could lead to permanent corneal scars.

Scars appear as whitish areas in your cornea and could affect your vision. Should you feel pain in your eye don’t hesitate to seek medical help. Corneal abrasions that are more serious will take longer to heal. This may require additional treatment.

Diagnosing Your Scratched Eye

Your eye doctor will examine your eye with a light. This is to check for scratches and any foreign objects. If there is a suspicion you suffered minor abrasions a yellowish dye called fluorescein is placed in the affected eye.

This is called an eye stain. Any abrasions in the area with the dye will show up as a greenish color when hit with a special blue light. No other test is needed for minor corneal abrasions.

Treating a Scratched Eye

Your ophthalmologist should be seen if you scratch your eye. Only your doctor should remove anything stuck on or embedded in your cornea. Concerns about your eye, having a lot of pain or any difficulty seeing, should take you to the emergency room.

For any eye pain you may be told to use nonprescription pain relievers. Cycloplegic drugs could also be prescribed. These will temporarily decrease the activity with the muscles that control the pupil size, reducing sensitivity to light.

Prescribed antibiotics or steroid eye drops may be given. These help to reduce inflammation and prevent scarring. In addition, lubricating eye drops may also help make you more comfortable.

No over the counter eye drops are available just for eye scratches. You shouldn’t use the over the counter eye drops unless prescribed by your   doctor. They may even worsen your condition. If you have scratched your eye consult your doctor before using eye drops.

Do and Don'ts for Scratched Eye

Do rinse your eye with saline solution or clean water. For first aid purposes I keep a bottle of saline solution in the linen closet. If you don’t have the eye cup available a small clean glass can be used.

You can rest the rim of the glass on the bone which is the base of your eye socket. This is beneath your lower eyelid. The water or saline solution can be used to flush out any foreign object from your eye.


Do blink several times. Blinking can also help to get rid of small specks of dust or sand from your eye.

Do pull your top eyelid over your bottom eyelid. Your lashes on the bottom eyelid can help brush things away. There may be foreign material caught underneath your top eyelid.

Do wear sunglasses. Always a good idea when you’re out in the sun. If you have a scratch on your eye you could be sensitive to light. While your eye is healing the sunglasses will make you more comfortable.

Don’t rub your eye. This is like that itch you shouldn’t scratch. However, rubbing your eye could make it worse.

Don’t touch your eye. Your fingers, cotton swabs basically any other object is not going to remove that foreign object. This could hurt your eye more. The object could have vanished that caused the scratch but you may still feel it is in your eye.

Don’t wear your contact lenses. Wearing your contact lenses will prevent your eye from healing quickly. This may also lead to contact lens-related infections.

Don’t use redness relieving eye drops. Over the counter redness reducing eye drops could cause more eye pain if you have a scratch. These won’t help your eye heal any faster.

As Your Scratched Eye Heals

Your ophthalmologist can inform you on what to expect after your examination. Often the eye will heal quickly. An eye scratch may even heal faster than a cut on your skin.

However each eye scratch is different and we can’t say exactly how long the healing process will take for you.

You can consult your physician on the length of your pain. How long you   should take any prescription given. As well as if there are any activities to avoid while healing.

If your symptoms should last longer than advised or  become worse let your   physician know. You may need a new treatment plan.

wood shavings and knife on dark surface scratch to the eye

Special Note Exfoliant Scrubs

Tiny plastic bits called Microbeads were used in skincare products a few years ago. They were meant to exfoliate debris from your body and face. These tiny pieces could have ended up in your eyes scratching the cornea.

As well as other gritty exfoliating scrubs that poses the same danger. Usual culprits are apricot scrubs with walnut shell powder, pumice stones, sugar and coffee grounds. All of these are active exfoliating ingredients.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmologist

US law prohibits using microbeads in personal care products. There’s also concern with these tiny plastic beads affecting the marine life. Good to hear there are a lot of products available without plastic or other harmful ingredients of the eyes.

  1. Tips for washing your face:

    • Purchase self-care products without gritty substances
    • To remove dirt from entering your eyes, wash your hands before washing your face
    • Pat your face dry, don’t rub, this may prevent brushing things into your eyes
    • If a product enters the eye rinse immediately with clean cold water
    • Don’t rub eyes if product enters this could lead to scratching the cornea
    • Consult your ophthalmologist if symptoms don’t go away or become worse
Wrapping it up

In this article we learned about scratching the cornea of the eye. Many situations and substances can cause this accident. The cornea, like the rest of your eye, is delicate sitting front and center.

The seriousness of the corneal abrasion is determined by how many layers in the eye are involved. Deeper scratches take longer to heal. There are some dos and don’ts to treating the scratched cornea.

Always wear protective eyewear when required or you have a concern with an object getting into your eye. Be careful when using an exfoliant near your eyes, course this goes for anything near your eye. Preventive measures would be eye protection to keep the vision you have.

Have you ever gotten a scratch to your eye?


Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fifteen years.

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