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What Are a Corneal Foreign Body and Corneal Abrasion?

The cornea acts as a clear window on the front of the eye. A corneal foreign body is something that hits the eye and stays on the cornea. A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the surface of the cornea.

What Causes a Corneal Foreign Body and Corneal Abrasion?

A foreign body scratching the cornea usually causes an abrasion. For example, wood slivers, pieces of mascara, or a damaged contact lens can scratch the cornea. Also, using power tools or hand tools can make something fly into the eye.

What Are the Symptoms of a Corneal Foreign Body and Corneal Abrasion?

A foreign body makes the eye red, painful, and sensitive to light. Vision may be blurred.

Main symptoms of a corneal abrasion are redness, tearing, and severe eye pain. It may be hard to keep the eye open or look at light. It may feel as if something is in the eye. Blinking makes the pain worse.

How Are a Corneal Foreign Body and Abrasion Diagnosed?

The health care provider will diagnose the abrasion by looking in the eye with a special light. Eyedrops containing a dye may first be put into the eye so that the health care provider can see the abrasion better. The health care provider will also check to see whether the foreign body is still in the eye. If a blow to the eye caused the abrasion, a complete eye examination should be done to look for other injuries.

How Are a Corneal Foreign Body and Corneal Abrasion Treated?

The health care provider will remove the foreign body. A scratch may remain on the corneal surface for a few days. The eye will hurt until the scratch heals. Antibiotic ointment or eyedrops will be used to treat the scratch. The ointment prevents infection and keeps the corneal surface moist and smooth. It stops the eyelid from rubbing against the irritated area with each blink. Eyedrops are sometimes used instead of ointment to prevent infection.

Oral medicine and moist, cold compresses can help ease pain.

A foreign body that is deeply embedded may need surgery to remove it. Corneal abrasions usually heal in a few days. Larger abrasions may take longer.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing a Corneal Foreign Body and Corneal Abrasion:

  • DO get treatment as soon as possible.
  • DO use ointment or eyedrops exactly as your health care provider tells you.
  • DO rest your eye. Avoid prolonged eye strain.
  • DO have your eye rechecked if doesn’t heal after 24 hours or pain gets worse.
  • DO wear safety glasses when working with hand tools, power tools, and machinery.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have increasing pain or redness or worsening vision.
  • DON’T touch or rub your eye, especially when you wake up.
  • DON’T wear contact lenses until the eye heals and you have finished all ointments or eyedrops for at least 1 day.
  • DON’T look at bright light.
  • DON’T use topical anesthetic for pain relief. It may delay the eye from healing.

Contact the following sources:

  • MedlinePlus
  • National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health
    Tel: (301) 496-5248
  • American Academy of Ophthalmology
    Tel: (415) 561-8500

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor