Corneal Abrasions

What is a corneal abrasion?

A corneal abrasion is a scratch or scrape on the cornea. This is the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye. 

What causes a corneal abrasion?

There are many things that can cause an abrasion to your child’s cornea. The more common causes include:

  • Foreign bodies in the eye. These include dirt, pebbles, and insects.
  • Scratch from a toy or fingernail
  • Contact lenses that don’t fit or aren’t cared for well. This may occur in older children.

When these objects come into contact with the surface of your child’s eye, they can cause an abrasion.

Who is at risk for corneal abrasion?

This condition is a common injury in children.

What are the symptoms of a corneal abrasion?

Symptoms can happen a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Pain and redness in the eye
  • Tearing of that eye
  • Pain when your child looks at a light
  • Much blinking in the affected eye
  • Holding the eye shut. A younger child may be more likely to do this.

The symptoms of corneal abrasion may look like symptoms of other eye issues or health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a corneal abrasion diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s health history. He or she will also give your child an eye exam. Your child may receive local numbing (anesthetic) eye drops for the exam.

Your child’s healthcare provider may also order a fluorescein stain. For this test, your child’s healthcare provider will place a small amount of a dye into your child's eye. This won’t hurt your child. Then, your child’s healthcare provider will use a special light to look at the surface of the cornea to see an abrasion or scratch.

How is a corneal abrasion treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Most corneal abrasions heal quickly. They usually don’t cause any permanent damage to the eye. Your child’s treatment may include the following.

Removal of the foreign body

If your child’s healthcare provider sees a foreign body, he or she may remove it. He or she may use a small cotton applicator to do this. Or he or she may wash your child’s eye out with saline.

Medicine

Your child may get an antibiotic ointment or steroid eye drop for his or her eye.

An eye patch

An eye patch can make your child more comfortable. Your child may need to wear the patch for 12 to 24 hours.

Evaluation by an eye healthcare provider

If your child has a severe abrasion or cut to the cornea, he or she has a higher risk for eye damage. He or she may need to see an eye care healthcare provider.

Your child will need follow-up care with his or her healthcare provider to make sure the abrasion fully heals. Make sure your child doesn’t rub his or her eyes. This can make the abrasion worse.

Can corneal abrasions be prevented?

Abrasions can often be prevented. Your child should wear protective eyewear when doing activities that put his or her eyes at risk, such as during sports.

Key points about a corneal abrasion

  • A corneal abrasion is a scratch or scrape to the cornea.
  • Most corneal abrasions heal quickly. They usually don’t cause any permanent damage to the eye.
  • Treatment may include removing a foreign body from the eye, medicine, or wearing an eye patch.
  • Make sure your child doesn’t rub his or her eyes. This can make the abrasion worse.
  • Abrasions can often be prevented. Your child should wear protective eyewear when doing activities that put his or her eyes at risk.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.