An Overview of Corneal Abrasion

The Pupil
Peter A. Kemmer

A corneal abrasion is a painful cut or scratch on the surface of the cornea, the front part of the eye. Corneal abrasions are usually a result of trauma to the surface of the eye. Although the cornea consists of five layers, a corneal abrasion usually only affects the top layer, known as the epithelium.


If you have a corneal abrasion, you'll probably be in a great deal of pain. You may experience light sensitivity, blurry vision, foreign body sensation, sandy-gritty feeling or eye redness. You may also find it difficult to hold your eye open, and doing so may result in excessive tearing.


If an object hits your eye, it may cause a corneal abrasion. The following are common causes of corneal abrasion:

  • A sharp edge of a plant stem or tree branch hitting the eye (ex: palm frond)
  • Dirt or dust particles entering the eye
  • A foreign body lodged underneath the eyelid
  • Flying particles thrown from a saw or other machinery entering the eye
  • Over-wearing contact lenses or wearing a torn or ripped contact lens
  • Excessive eye rubbing
  • Eyelashes growing the wrong way
  • Eye conditions such as severe dry eye syndrome
  • An infant putting their finger, with a sharp fingernail, into the eye of their parent.


If you think you have a corneal abrasion, it is important to seek the care of a healthcare provider quickly. A corneal abrasion is similar to a skinned knee. It's an open sore that creates a doorway for bacteria to invade your eye and cause infection.

Your healthcare provider will examine your eye under a slit lamp biomicroscope. They will instill a special dye or stain to highlight any imperfections on the surface of the cornea. (Don't worry, the coloring isn't permanent.)

An abrasion, if present, will soak up the stain, showing the healthcare provider the location and depth of the injury. Your eyelid will also be inverted to check for any foreign material that may be lodged deep in your eye.


Treatment varies depending on the size of the corneal abrasion. In large abrasions, most healthcare providers will insert a bandage contact lens to cover the injured cornea and speed healing. Antibiotic eye drops are also typically prescribed to prevent infection. Depending on the level of pain, your healthcare provider may prescribe a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drop or oral pain medication.

Although corneal abrasions are quite painful, most abrasions heal rather quickly. With proper treatment, you will likely feel much better within 48 hours.

A Word From Verywell

If you think you have suffered a corneal abrasion, seek treatment from a healthcare provider immediately. Do not rub your eye. Instead, blink several times and gently rinse your eye with clean water. Avoid patching your eye until a healthcare provider has examined you, as the benefit of patching is not clear and might even slow things down if done incorrectly.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is a Corneal Abrasion?.

  2. American Family Physician. Evaluation and Management of Corneal Abrasions. 2013.

Additional Reading

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.