Eye conditions & symptoms 4 min read

Understanding Corneal Abrasion

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A corneal abrasion is when you get a scratch on the clear window on the surface of your eye, known as the cornea. The condition can be painful due to the number of nerves found in the cornea. Learn about the condition and what symptoms to be aware of.

A corneal abrasion is when you get a scratch on the clear window on the surface of your eye, known as the cornea. The condition can be painful due to the number of nerves found in the cornea.

Signs & symptoms

If you have a corneal abrasion, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Eye Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Red Eyes
  • Watery Eyes
  • Photophobia 
  • Affected Vision
  • Discharge from the Eyes 

You may also notice the above symptoms deteriorating over time. 

Complications of corneal abrasions

If an abrasion on your cornea isn’t treated the condition may get worse, causing further inflammation, infection, and possibly permanent damage to your eyes and vision. 

Recurrent Corneal Erosion Syndrome

Recurrent Corneal Erosion Syndrome is when the corneal skin heals but doesn’t completely bind to the eyeball, which can lead to the skin sticking to the eyelid and ripping when your eyes open. Treatment for this can involve using lubricating eye ointments for an extended period of time and perhaps laser eye surgery.

How your eye works: The cornea

Anatomy of the eye

There are four main parts of the eye that help it work:

The cornea and lens focus the light onto the retina. When the cornea becomes scratched it can affect the quality of your vision.
The retina is a layer of light and colour sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. It converts the light it receives into electrical signals.
The optic nerve sends the electrical signals converted by the retina to the brain, where it is interpreted as an image.

What causes corneal abrasions?

Corneal abrasions are generally a result of a scratch on the surface of the eye. 

Scratches on the cornea

Common causes of scratching can include:

  • Fingernails
  • Low hanging branches
  • Hairbrushes
  • Dust particles
  • Small foreign objects

If you spend a lot of time outdoors in dusty conditions or regularly apply make-up around the eyes, you may be more likely to cause a scratch to the cornea

How is corneal abrasion diagnosed?

Corneal abrasions are generally diagnosed by an eye care specialist who will look at the cornea through a microscope, sometimes using anaesthetic to ease your discomfort and dye to highlight the abrasion.

Eye tests

Eye test snellen chart looking through a lens

It’s important to have your eyes tested every two years as an adult unless your eye care specialist or doctors has advised differently. 

Eye tests generally last around half an hour, during which your vision and eye health are both examined. You’ll be asked for your medical history, as well as any symptoms you’re presenting, how long you’ve had them, and how severe they are. You may also be asked about your health and lifestyle in general and any medication you are on. 

A vision test is where the eye care specialist examines your visual acuity, and your vision at long, short, and intermediate distances. This often involves reading from a Snellen chart, where each row of letters becomes smaller. Your vision may be tested with and without the use of corrective lenses if you use them.

How do you treat corneal abrasion? 

Corneal abrasions can sometimes heal by themselves within 48 hours, however, if not they may require further treatment:


You may be given antibiotics, normally in the form of an ointment, as well as an eye pad to keep the eye closed. It may take 2-3 days to heal, however, your doctor or eye care specialist will advise you on how long to undergo this treatment.

a man dropping eye drops in to his eye


Your eye care specialist or doctor may also prescribe lubricants to be used while you sleep, to help stop the eyelid and cornea from sticking together and tearing.


Cyclopentolate is an eye drop that causes pupil dilation and pain relief, however, it can also cause blurred vision.

Home care

When taking care of your eyes at home, remember:

  • Don’t touch or rub the affected eye.
  • Don’t remove the eye pad unless your eye care specialist or doctor tells you to.
  • Don’t drive or operate machinery.
  • Do use over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol for pain if necessary.