August 18, 2022


Slick Healthy

Healing Time, Treatment, Causes, and More

The cornea is the eye’s clear outer layer that protects it and allows light in so you can see. Sometimes an object, such as your fingernail or a contact lens, scratches your eye and causes a corneal abrasion. This is one of the most common eye injuries.

The epithelium is the outermost of the cornea’s five layers. When a corneal abrasion occurs, the damage typically impacts the epithelium. The damage to other layers depends on the severity of the abrasion. Getting something in your eye can also cause a corneal abrasion because it can rub the cornea each time you blink. 

This article will discuss how long it takes for a corneal abrasion to heal. It will also talk about treatment, causes, symptoms, and prevention of corneal abrasions.

How long does it take a corneal abrasion to heal?

Person looking at their eye in the mirror

Gëzim Fazliu/EyeEm/Getty Images

With medical treatment, smaller corneal abrasions involving only the epithelium typically take  1–3 days to heal. Larger corneal abrasions often heal within a week. Additionally, scratches due to a contact lens might require follow-up with an ophthalmologist.

Many corneal abrasions are not serious and often heal without treatment. However, some types of corneal abrasions can cause blindness without treatment. Therefore, it is important to contact a doctor or eye specialist if you scratch your eye. Corneal abrasions can also cause recurrent corneal erosion, a potentially bothersome long-term condition.

How do doctors treat a corneal abrasion?

Treatment for a corneal abrasion depends on how serious the scratch is and what caused it. Ophthalmologists and optometrists are eye health specialists who can treat corneal abrasions with tools specifically for the eye.

First, they will examine the eye with a small flashlight or special blue-light microscope. This helps them evaluate the injury and look for any sign of something stuck in the eye. They might use a specific medicated eye drop that makes it easier to see scratches on the cornea.

These methods help them pinpoint the extent of the injury. They will also determine if any objects are still stuck in the eye or under the eyelid, causing pain.

If a clinician finds anything in the eye, they will try to remove it with special tools. Do not try to remove anything from the eyes yourself because you risk causing further damage and infection.

People who wear contacts are at greater risk of developing an infection after a corneal abrasion. Your doctor might ask you to wear glasses for a few days until your eye heals.

Depending on what caused the abrasion, your clinician may prescribe antibiotic drops or ointment to prevent an eye infection.

The eye might remain sensitive to light and wind until it heals. Therefore, the doctor might recommend wearing an eye patch to provide extra protection and comfort during healing.

After a corneal abrasion, a doctor may recommend eye drops, such as artificial tears, to help with discomfort. They may also recommend over-the-counter pain medications to manage discomfort.

Your clinician may want to follow up in 24 hours to ensure that the corneal abrasion is healing correctly. When a corneal abrasion does not heal correctly, it becomes a corneal erosion.

Learn about 6 signs you should see an eye doctor.

What causes a corneal abrasion?

Anything that can scratch your eye can cause a corneal abrasion, including having dry eyes and rubbing them. Some of the most common causes of corneal abrasions are:

  • having dry eyes due to wearing contacts
  • scratching the eye with a fingernail
  • applying eye makeup with brushes, such as mascara or eyeliner
  • poking your eye with a sharp object, such as a pen
  • rubbing your eyes too hard
  • wood or metal particles entering the eye
  • dirt or sand flying into the eye
  • getting hit in the eye with a tree branch
  • chemicals splashing into the eye

What are the symptoms of a corneal abrasion?

Corneal abrasions are often painful and uncomfortable, depending on the cause and severity. Some common symptoms of a corneal abrasion include:

Learn about keratitis here.

Can you prevent a corneal abrasion?

People who work in certain industries are at a higher risk of experiencing corneal abrasions. These industries include:

  • auto
  • landscaping
  • manufacturing
  • construction
  • maritime

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that, in 2019, emergency rooms in the United States treated 118,000 eye injuries resulting from workplace incidents.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates workplace safety, including proper eye protection for each industry. OSHA estimates that workplace incidents cause blindness in thousands of people every year. It is important to follow the rules for eye and face protection while working in a high risk position.

People who play contact sports or work with wood or metal have a higher risk of corneal abrasion. Sports that involve a smaller ball or object increase the risk of eye injury. Strongly consider wearing sports goggles before playing these sports, including:

  • hockey
  • racquetball
  • badminton
  • softball
  • baseball

People who ski or snowboard should also wear eye protection. They risk running into objects, such as tree branches or their poles.

People who wear contact lenses should examine them before each application to make sure they do not have a torn edge. Do not continue to wear the lenses if they are uncomfortable. Additionally, always follow manufacturer instructions about how often you should replace your lenses with a fresh pair.

Avoid rubbing your eyes after or during a corneal abrasion, which can worsen the condition.

Corneal abrasion is a common injury, especially among people who work in fields that increase their risk for eye injuries. Each year, corneal abrasions account for about 2% of primary care visits. About 8% of these visits occur due to an object in the eye.

Anything that enters the eye, either by poking it or getting under the eyelid and rubbing the eye, can cause a corneal abrasion. Although they can cause pain and light sensitivity, minor corneal abrasions often heal within 1–3 days.

Always seek medical help after scratching your eye to get the most effective treatment. Following up with your doctor after treatment can help avoid complications.