Corneal Abrasions

A corneal abrasion is an injury to the cornea * of the eye.

What Is Corneal Abrasion?

A corneal abrasion occurs when the cornea of the eye is somehow injured. When the surface cells that cover the eyeball are injured, some of these cells are removed and damaged, which can be painful.

What Causes Corneal Abrasion?

Corneal abrasion usually occurs accidentally, when something scratches the eye. Poorly cleaned contact lenses, a finger poke to the eye, a grain of sand, or other foreign body can all result in corneal abrasion.

Who Gets Corneal Abrasion?

Anyone can get a corneal abrasion, although children, active teenagers and adults, and older debilitated adults are most prone to this injury. Corneal abrasion is the most frequent diagnosis given to children who seek treatment in emergency departments for eye injury.

What Are the Symptoms of Corneal Abrasion?

Corneal abrasion usually causes intense tearing and discomfort. Light often hurts the eye, and individuals may notice the uncomfortable sensation of something gritty being in their eye. Pain may be worse when attempting to open or close the affected eye, and the eye may be red, somewhat bloodshot, and swollen in appearance.

How Is Corneal Abrasion Diagnosed?

Corneal abrasion is usually suspected from a history of likely injury and the characteristic symptoms of pain, light sensitivity, and tearing. The actual abrasion can be seen by an eye examiner. Eye drops containing a fluorescein dye are put into the affected eye, and a slit lamp is used to look at the eye in an otherwise darkened room. Other tests may be performed to make sure that there is no other, more serious injury to the eye, such as checking vision, evaluating the pressure within the eye (intraocular pressure), making sure there is no deeper cut to the cornea that would require surgical repair, identifying foreign bodies that need removal, and verifying that no other serious disease of the eye is causing the symptoms.

How Is Corneal Abrasion Treated?

Corneal abrasion (stained with green florescein dye). The female patient received the injury during a procedure to tattoo her eyelids.

Corneal abrasion (stained with green florescein dye). The female patient received the injury during a procedure to tattoo her eyelids.
© Scott Camazine/Phototake.

Can Corneal Abrasion Be Prevented?

Prevention of corneal abrasion is not always possible, because it usually occurs due to a random accident. However, athletes and people whose occupations expose them to dirt, dust, cement and metal particles, or chemicals should be encouraged to wear appropriate protective eyewear to decrease their risk of this type of injury.

See also Infection


Books and Articles

Abel, Robert. The Eye Care Revolution: Prevent and Reverse Common Vision Problems. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Kensington, 2014.


MedlinePlus. “Corneal Injury.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. (accessed November 30, 2015).


American Academy of Family Physicians. PO Box 11210, Shawnee Mission, KS 66207-1210. Toll-free: 800-274-2237. Website: (accessed November 30, 2015).

The Discovery Eye Foundation. 17315 Studebaker Rd., Suite 115, Cerritos, CA 90703. Telephone: 310-623-4466. Website: (accessed November 30, 2015).

* cornea (KOR-nee-uh) is the transparent circular layer of cells over the central colored part of the eyeball (the iris) through which light enters the eye.

Disclaimer:   This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

(MLA 8th Edition)