April is Sports Eye Safety Month, so it’s a natural time to think about corneal abrasions. Anything from a baseball to a basketball player’s elbow might scratch the protective outer layer of the cornea, the clear front surface of the eye that helps direct light rays to your retina. (You’ll find information on Horizon Eye Care’s Cornea page.) While we realize that this April, the only sports people are playing are with family members, we still want you to be careful to protect your eyes.
Further, threats to the cornea turn up almost anywhere, inside the house or out: Flying bits of metal and wood from a workshop, tree branches, a paper cut, a pet’s claw or untrimmed fingernail. One Horizon patient, waiting to go onstage in an opera, caught a broom straw in the eye when a singer playing a street sweeper turned suddenly.
Leave your contact lenses in too long, especially if they’re damaged, and you’re also at risk. People with dry eye disease get abrasions easily, especially if their eyelids stick to their corneas while they sleep: When they open their eyes, they may tear the corneal surface. Such a cut can be a minor irritation or a serious problem, if bacteria enter the wound and infect it.
Symptoms Of A Damaged Cornea
Symptoms can be mild: excess tears, minor pain, the feeling that something is stuck in your eye. A more serious abrasion can give you a headache or swollen eyelids, make you sensitive to light or blur your vision. You may see a spot of blood, a scratch line or general redness.
Your eye doctor should decide how severely you’re hurt and what to do about it. Yet even before you go for treatment, you can help yourself. Rinse the eye with saline solution or clear water to flush out foreign objects. Blink regularly to help that process, and pull the upper eyelid down over the lower one, so lower lashes can brush away something caught under the upper lid. Wear sunglasses to reduce light sensitivity.
But don’t rub that eye, whether open or closed, with your fist: You may itch, but you mustn’t scratch. (That’s a bad idea any time, even if you have no abrasion.) Don’t poke your finger in your eye, which may feel as if the foreign object is there after it’s gone. Take out contact lenses and leave them out, until a doctor says you can wear them. Don’t use over-the-counter eye drops that relieve redness, because they may be painful and won’t heal you faster.
Treatment varies from lubricating drops in simple cases to antibiotic drops or ointments and a steroid to reduce inflammation. A doctor may prescribe a “bandage contact lens” to accelerate healing. Superficial injuries repair themselves in a few days; deeper ones take longer. If scarring will permanently affect vision, a corneal transplant might be the appropriate step.
Naturally, the smartest thing to do about abrasions is prevent them: Wear protective goggles in sports competitions or while working with tools, and put on sunglasses outdoors to avoid windblown debris. But if you’re caught unaware, your doctor will set you right.
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This post was originally published on April 27, 2020.