Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.
This is a scratch that happens on the white part of your eye. This white part covers your iris. This white part is called your cornea and it plays an important role in your vision. Your cornea helps to focus the light as it enters your eye. When you have a scratched eye it is also referred to as a corneal abrasion. Most cases of scratched eye are prevalent in those who wear contact lenses but it can also happen to a baby because their curious fingers like to feel things and they could accidentally poke themselves in the eye with their finger.
Scratched Eye Symptoms
Symptoms of a scratched eye do not always happen immediately so sometimes it is hard to pinpoint what caused your scratched eye or when it happened. When you have a scratched eye you may experience:
- Pain in your cornea, especially when you open or close your eye
- Feeling as if you have sand or grit in your eye
- Photophobia, which is when you are unable to stand bright light and could suffer from migraines and intense pain.
- An excessive amount of tears
- Crusty buildup of tears may also be present
- Uncomfortable sensation in your eye
- Blurred or loss of vision due to corneal swelling
- Sensitivity to light
- In babies they may suddenly become fussy and they could have a slight scratch mark around their eye and only one eye is usually affected
What are the Causes of Scratched Eye?
Some of the causes of having a scratched eye can include:
- Poking anything pointed into your eye such as your finger, your makeup brush, a plant, or a small child accidentally pokes you in the eye
- Getting grit, dirt, sawdust, sand, ash in your eye
- Having a foreign body like an eyelash hair
- Rubbing your eyes aggressively and scratching it with your fingernail
- Dry or hard contact lenses
- Improperly cleaned contact lenses
- Over-worn contact lenses
- Contact lenses that do not fit properly
- Chemical burns
- Particular infections in your eye
- Lack of eye protections, such as when you are working, or during surgeries
If there is swelling and intense pain place a cold compress over the eye but make sure that your eyes are closed first. Have someone drive you to your ophthalmologist or the emergency room. You need medical attention to help prevent further complications. When you visit your ophthalmologist they will diagnosis what is causing your scratched eye and treat that specific condition. Often they will recommend antibiotic eye drops to help avoid any possible scarring and reduce the inflammation. Normally they will prescribe steroid eye drops. To help relieve the pain instantly your ophthalmologist may give you a prescription for anesthetic eye drops. Because these anesthetic eye drops could interfere with your eyes natural healing process only use them as long as your ophthalmologist recommends and then discard. If you have any metallic, rusty deposits in your scratched eye your eye doctor may also recommend that you have a tetanus injection along with a prescription for anesthetic eye drops to help give you relief from the pain. Your ophthalmologist may have you wear a patch over the scratched eye to help relieve the pain. Covering the scratched eye will give your eye a rest because when it is covered you are not using it to see and causing strain on the affected eye. If you have a high risk of infection the ophthalmologist will not use an eye patch to help reduce the chance of an infection.
Many times if the scratched eye is not serious it will be left to heal on its own as it has its own natural process of healing. It will normally completely heal within a couple of days but it depends on how severe the scratched eye was. It will not leave any permanent damage when it has healed. During the healing process the cells will be reconnecting the undamaged layers along with renewing the scratched part of the cornea. Make sure that during the healing process that you try to avoid rubbing the eye as much as you can. If you wear contacts you should not wear them at all during the healing process. If you have experienced blurriness due to the scratched eye it could take several weeks after it has healed for your vision to totally clear up. Also during the healing process make sure that you wear sunglasses when going outdoors. To help prevent this from reoccurring you could talk to your ophthalmologist about any safe lubricants or ointments you can use.
It is advisable to get medical attention for your scratched eye but there are some things that you can do at home until you see your ophthalmologist. The two things that you do not want to do are to rub your eye or touch your eye with anything as these things can irritate it more. You do not want to leave a scratched eye without medical attention for a long time because it could cause a lot of eye problems such as a corneal ulcer.
For minor irritation, which could be from having grit or a small piece of dust in your eye try and wash out the irritation with clean cool water or use a saline solution of water and salt instead. You can do this by tilting back your head slightly leaning to the side of the scratched eye and slowly pour water into your eye, trying not to get it into your nostrils and cause you to cough. Although this treatment may seem a little harsh it is one of the best and effective treatments. You can also take a shower and let the water flow on your face but you have to keep your eyes open so the water can try to flush the irritant out. The water will need to be as cool as you can stand it. Only do these treatments if the cause of your scratched eye is a minor irritation.
Other things you can try at home can include:
- Try blinking your eyes several times to see if the irritation goes away because sometimes blinking can get rid of any small bits of dust, sand, or other irritants that were blown into your eye by the wind.
- Pull your upper eyelid over your eyelid because when you do this the lashes from your lower eyelid may be able to brush away any type of foreign object that has been caught underneath the upper eyelid
One thing to note is that even if you get out the irritant that caused the scratched eye it can still feel as if there is something in your eye. If you are not sure it is out or not you should have your ophthalmologist look at your eye to make sure. If you think there is something in your eye have someone look into your eye using a flashlight to make sure. Although you should not put your finger in your eye, you can use the tip of your finger and gently try to remove the foreign object from your cornea.
Prevention of Scratched Eye
It is a good idea to take the necessary precautions to prevent a scratched eye instead of having to deal with the pain afterwards.
- To help prevent a scratched eye you should always try to wear sunglasses when you are going outdoors, especially during the hottest part of the day and especially if your eyes are sensitive to the light.
- You should wear protective eyewear in jobs where there is a chance to scratch your eye such as when you are doing welding.
- When you are wearing your contact lenses make sure you are practicing good hygiene when taking them in and out by washing your hands before doing so, keep them in solution when not wearing them, if they become scratched or extremely dirty and cannot be cleaned get a new pair, never sleep in your contact lenses, change lens as recommended by your ophthalmologist.