The cornea is a thin, transparent dome that covers the eye's iris (the colored part of the eye) and pupil (the black center of the eye). All the light that enters your eye and enables you to see first strikes the cornea.
Flying dust, specks of metal or sand, a fingernail, an animal claw, or other foreign objects may cause a scratch on the cornea. Contact lenses may also scratch or irritate the cornea. A minor scratch is called a corneal abrasion.
An infected corneal abrasion may become a corneal ulcer. Sometimes plant matter in the eye causes an inflammation called iritis. These are serious conditions that can develop from a corneal abrasion.
To prevent eye injuries, wear protective eyewear while mowing the lawn and working with tools. People who work around chemicals and welding gear should always wear goggles or other eye protection.
The cornea contains many nerve endings, so even a minor scratch may feel very uncomfortable and painful. It may feel as though there is something large and rough in the eye.
Most corneal abrasions are minor and heal quickly. If you have sudden eye pain with tears and rapid blinking, you may have a scratched cornea and should see your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor will treat you with drops to relax the eye muscles and widen the pupil. You will also receive fluorescent drops that will highlight imperfections in the corneal surface. You will also often receive a corneal anesthetic to temporarily ease the pain. Then your doctor will carefully examine the eye, using a lamp and magnification tools, to determine whether a foreign body is in the eye.
Immediately after a corneal abrasion, you can try to rinse your eye with clean water or saline solution. Blinking several times may remove sand or grit from the eye. Do not rub your eye or touch your eyeball.
After a diagnosis of corneal abrasion, your doctor will decide whether you need a topical antibiotic to treat an existing infection. If the abrasion is more severe, you may receive a prescription for drops to relieve pain and sensitivity to light. Some sufferers of corneal abrasions receive a prescription for pain medication. In most cases, the cornea heals quickly, usually within several days.