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The cornea is the clear lens that covers the iris and the pupil. A superficial scratch on the cornea is called a corneal abrasion, and can be caused or exacerbated by a number of factors.

Factors that can cause a corneal abrasion include, but are not limited to:

  • Debris (e.g., dirt, dust, ash, or any other foreign airborne matter)
  • Aggressive eye rubbing
  • Dirty or poorly fitting contact lenses
  • Forgetting to take contacts out at night
  • Contact with caustic chemicals (e.g., household cleaning agents, bleach, etc.)
  • Getting poked forcefully in the eye with a sharp or blunt object


Symptoms don’t always present themselves immediately, so it can be easy to miss the initial cause of an abrasion (unless it was something obvious, like a jab to the eye). However, once symptoms for corneal abrasion do arise, it’s impossible to ignore them. Symptoms include:

  • Pain when opening or closing the affected eye
  • Excessive watering and redness
  • Light sensitivity
  • Persistent feeling of sand or grit in the eye
  • Distorted or blurred vision
  • Partial or total loss of vision

If you believe that you have a corneal abrasion, call your eye doctor immediately and schedule an appointment as soon as possible.


If you’ve been poked in the eye or something’s gotten in your eye, do not rub your eye. Instead, blink your eyes rapidly several times. Holding onto your eyelashes, pull your upper eyelid out over your lower eyelid, and rinse your eye out with clean water. You may also use a clean saline solution if it’s available.

Avoid rubbing your eye as you rinse it out. This should wash your eye out and keep your cornea from becoming scratched. If, however, the foreign object(s) have become lodged in your eye and won’t budge, it’s time to call the eye doctor. Whatever you do, do not touch your eyeball with any other foreign objects, including cotton swabs or tweezers. Attempting to remove objects from your eye by yourself only increases your risk of doing more damage, and can cause permanent damage to your vision.


Even if you manage to wash out the foreign matter that caused the abrasion, or if you know that the abrasion was caused when you scratched your eye with your fingernail, you should still seek medical attention.

When left untreated, a corneal abrasion has a much greater chance of getting infected and causing a corneal ulcer, and, as painful as corneal abrasions are, corneal ulcers are a much more serious problem. If plant matter or some other allergen caused the abrasion, it can also cause iritis, which is inflammation inside the eye. 

Again, it is of the utmost importance that you have an ophthalmologist examine your eye to ensure that no other damage was done, and to administer any necessary treatments to avoid lasting vision problems.

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