Corneal Erosions or Abrasions

Reviewed by Christopher T. Hood, M.D.

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What Is Corneal Erosion?

A corneal erosion or abrasion occurs when there is loss of the corneal epithelium, the cornea’s outer layer. These can occur if your cornea is scraped or injured, often leading to eye pain or other symptoms.

Symptoms

The most common symptom of a corneal erosion or abrasion is pain, often like there is something in your eye. You also may experience eye redness, light sensitivity, blurred vision, and tearing. 

These symptoms may not necessarily mean that you have a corneal erosion or abrasion. However, if you experience one or more of these symptoms, contact your ophthalmologist for a complete exam.

Causes

These painful conditions commonly arise after a poke from a finger, tree limbs and bushes, or vigorous rubbing of the eye. Sometimes they are caused by contact lenses or other foreign bodies in the eye.

Risk Factors

Certain corneal diseases and dystrophies can place you at a higher risk of developing corneal erosions, even in the absence of any apparent trauma.

Tests and Diagnosis

Detecting an erosion or abrasion requires the use of fluorescein dye, which highlights the injured tissue during an eye exam. If present, underlying corneal disease also can be diagnosed during an eye exam. Special imaging or other testing is usually not necessary.

Treatment and Drugs

A corneal erosion or abrasion typically heals quickly, often within a few days to a week. It is important not to rub your eye during the healing process as the new epithelial cells are fragile and can easily be rubbed off.  Sometimes your ophthalmologist may choose to patch your eye tightly. This facilitates healing of the damaged corneal epithelium and also reduces pain by preventing the blinking eyelid from irritating the affected area. Since both eyes move together and the eye is most painful when it moves, it is often helpful to rest the other eye as well.

Your ophthalmologist may recommend an antibiotic to prevent infection. Anesthetic drops can relieve pain and facilitate examination but may keep the eye from healing properly if used repeatedly. Anesthetic drops should never be used as a treatment. Long after an abrasion has healed it may spontaneously recur, and is often noticeable upon awakening in the morning. Recurrent corneal erosions often require repeat patching or the use of ointments at bedtime. Sometimes a soft or bandage-type contact lens is used to facilitate healing. Occasionally, treatment of the corneal surface with minor surgery is necessary to prevent recurrences.

If bacteria get into the tissues under the protective corneal epithelium, infection or a corneal ulcer can result. These complications can be very serious and cause loss of vision. Proper care by you and your ophthalmologist are necessary to help prevent serious consequences.

Clinic Information

For more information, see the Cornea & External Disease, Cataract & Refractive Surgery Clinic and the complete Clinic Services listing of the U-M Kellogg Eye Center.

Last Modified: Wednesday, 19-Feb-2014 08:42:47 EST