The most common types of eye injuries involve the cornea — the clear, protective "window" at the front of your eye. Contact with dust, dirt, sand, wood shavings, metal particles or even the edge of a piece of paper can scratch or cut the cornea. Usually the scratch is superficial, and this is called a corneal abrasion. Some corneal abrasions become infected and result in a corneal ulcer, which is a serious problem. Corneal abrasions caused by plant matter (such as a pine needle) can cause a delayed inflammation inside the eye (iritis).
Corneal abrasions can be painful. If your cornea is scratched, you might feel like you have sand in your eye. Tears, blurred vision, increased sensitivity or redness around the eye can suggest a corneal abrasion. You may get a headache.
In case of corneal abrasion, seek prompt medical attention. Other immediate steps you can take for a corneal abrasion are to:
- Rinse your eye with clean water (use a saline solution, if available). You can use an eyecup or small, clean drinking glass positioned with its rim resting on the bone at the base of your eye socket. If your work site has an eye-rinse station, use it. Rinsing the eye may wash out a foreign object.
- Blink several times. This movement may remove small particles of dust or sand.
- Pull the upper eyelid over the lower eyelid. The lashes of your lower eyelid can brush away a foreign object from the undersurface of your upper eyelid.
Take caution to avoid certain actions that may aggravate the injury:
- Don't try to remove an object that's embedded in your eyeball. Also avoid trying to remove a large object that makes closing the eye difficult.
- Don't rub your eye after an injury. Touching or pressing on your eye can worsen a corneal abrasion.
- Don't touch your eyeball with cotton swabs, tweezers or other instruments. This can aggravate a corneal abrasion.
Uncomplicated corneal abrasions usually heal spontaneously within 24 to 48 hours.
- Jacobs DS, et al. Corneal abrasions and corneal foreign bodies. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Dec. 5, 2011.
- Robertson DM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 14, 2011.