A scratch on the front of the eye is called an abrasion. It can occur on the cornea or the conjunctiva and is usually associated with intense pain and other symptoms. Fortunately, the eye is able to naturally heal itself very rapidly and treatments are available to mitigate the pain and risk during the healing process.
Anatomy of the Front of the Eye
The front of the eye has two clear structures – the cornea and the conjunctiva. The cornea is the center of the eye and covers the colored part of the eye, the iris.
The conjunctiva covers the entire white part of the eye, the sclera.
The cornea is a very rigid structure and is responsible for helping to bend light into the eye.
The conjunctiva is a softer, more mucous membrane-like structure that provides some protection, nutrition, and blood supply to the eyes.
Corneal and Conjunctival Abrasions
A scratch on either the cornea or the conjunctiva can be called an abrasion.
Both of these structures have a large nerve supply and when damaged will cause lots of localized pain.
It can take a significant amount of force to scratch the cornea or conjunctiva, but if an object is sharp or rigid enough, the force required can be much less.
Causes of Corneal Abrasions
Some of the most common causes of corneal abrasions are scratches from fingernails or animal nails, scratches from debris such as rocks or grass clippings in the eye, and damage from a contact lens or while attempting to remove a contact lens.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the potential causes of a corneal abrasion. Anything that can come in contact with the front of the eye can pose a risk of causing a corneal abrasion.
Signs and Symptoms of a Corneal or Conjunctival Abrasion
A corneal or conjunctival abrasion will be very painful due to the vast number of nerves in both the cornea and the conjunctiva.
These abrasions can also result in light sensitivity, red eyes, watery discharge from the eyes, and swelling of the eyelids and around the eyes.
Healing Process for a Corneal Abrasion
An abrasion on the cornea or conjunctiva will likely heal within a week. The cornea rapidly regenerates and depending on the depth of the abrasion, may not even have a scar form in the cornea.
Similarly, the conjunctiva will resolve an abrasion in less than a week by producing new tissue to replace that which was damaged.
Treatments for a Corneal Abrasion
There are a few treatments which improve the healing process and reduce the risk of further complications with corneal abrasions.
The most common and important treatment aspect is the use of an antibiotic eye drop. This drop is used to prevent a new infection while the cornea is damaged and exposed to the environment.
To expedite the healing, a bandage contact lens or special lens with stem cell tissue can be used on the eye with the abrasion.
To improve comfort during the day, the use of artificial tears or lubricating eye drops is recommended.