Updated on  February 10, 2023
4 min read

Scratched Eye Causes, Complications, & Treatment

6 sources cited
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A corneal abrasion is a superficial scratch on the protective, clear ‘window’ at the front of your eye, otherwise known as the cornea.

Symptoms of a corneal scratch include:

If you experience corneal abrasion, seek immediate medical attention. Corneal abrasions can become infected and lead to a corneal ulcer if left untreated. 

Causes of a Scratched Eye 

Injuries to the cornea occur often. Eye injuries to the outer surface may develop from:2

  • Scratches or scrapes on the surface of the cornea 
  • Chemical injuries arising from fluids that reach the eye, particularly alkali burns (such as ammonia or lye) or acid burns (such as car battery acid). 
  • Contact lens issues, including overuse, poor fit, or sensitivity to contact lens care solutions 
  • Foreign bodies 
  • Ultraviolet (UV) injuries, caused by sunlight, blue light, sun lamps, snow or water reflections, or arc-welding
  • Eye infections

Your cornea can also be scratched by contact with foreign objects, such as:

  • Dirt
  • Sand
  • Wood
  • Dust
  • Shavings
  • Metal particles
  • Contact lenses
  • Paper
  • Plant matter

Corneal abrasions resulting from plant matter, such as a pine needle, usually need special attention. This is because they can lead to delayed inflammation inside the eye. This is known as iritis. They can also cause fungal keratitis (corneal infection from fungi).

Risk Factors

You are more likely to experience a corneal eye injury if you:

  • Are exposed to sunlight or artificial UV light for long periods
  • Have ill-fitting contact lenses or overuse your contact lenses
  • Have significantly dry eyes
  • Work in a dusty environment
  • Use a hammer or power tools without wearing safety glasses 

High-speed particles, like chips from hammering metal on metal, may become stuck on the cornea's surface. In some cases, they may penetrate deeper into the eye.

Dry eyes and the improper use of contact lenses may heighten the risk of corneal abrasions. People who experience dry eyes at night can tear the corneal epithelium when opening the eyelids. This is due to the lack of eye moisture.

Damaged contact lenses or wearing them for long periods also enhances the risk of a scratched eye.

Potential Complications of a Scratched Cornea

Most people fully recover from minor abrasions without permanent eye damage. 

However, deeper injuries can lead to:

  • Corneal infections
  • Corneal erosion
  • Scarring of the cornea
  • Permanent vision loss

If you do not properly treat a scratched eye, these potential complications can lead to long-term vision issues. Discuss any unusual symptoms with your eye doctor.

When to See a Doctor 

Seek emergency medical care if you experience the following:

  • Eye pain
  • Changes in vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light following a scratch or trauma to the eyeball
  • A foreign object stuck in the eye or eyelid or under the eyelid
  • Vision loss
  • Blurred vision
  • An object hitting the eye at high speed or with intense force

Your doctor can provide medical advice, treatment, and eye health tips. In severe cases, you may have to visit the emergency room.

Treatment Options for Eye Scratches 

A minor eye scratch should heal alone in 1 to 3 days. More severe corneal abrasions may take longer. If you have an eye scratch, your eye doctor may prescribe or provide the following:

  • Prescription eye drops
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Medicated lubricating drops
  • Pain medicine
  • Soft, bandage contact lens to make your eye more comfortable while it heals.

In severe corneal abrasions, your doctor may tape your eye shut and have you wear a patch over your eye to stop light from affecting it.

Other tips for healing from eye scratches include:

  • Do not rub your eye when it is healing.
  • Do not wear contact lenses (unless they prescribe a bandage contact) until your doctor says it is safe to do so.
  • Wear sunglasses to reduce discomfort caused by sunlight.

You should completely recover from a minor eye scratch without permanent damage. However, more severe corneal abrasions can cause eye infections, scars, and other issues.

If you don't address these problems, you may experience long-term vision issues. Report any unusual symptoms to your eye doctor. This includes a return of pain following treatment.

How to Prevent Eye Scratches 

You can prevent many types of eye scratches by taking simple, common-sense precautions. For example, always wear protective eye wear or safety glasses in work environments, especially in welding environments, with airborne debris. 

Use proper eye protection when performing yard work, using power tools, and playing sports.

If you wear contact lenses, follow your doctor’s instructions on how long to wear them, when to discard them, and which solutions to use.

If you experience a scratched cornea related to dry eyes, see an eye doctor and follow the dry eye treatment they recommend.


It's important to treat a scratched eye before it worsens. Learning about the different risk factors and causes of a scratched eye can help prevent it.

Different treatment options are available for scratched eyes. Visit a doctor if you experience severe symptoms.

Updated on  February 10, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on  February 10, 2023
  1. Boyd K. "Corneal Abrasion and Erosion." American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  2. "Corneal injury." MedlinePlus.
  3. Domingo E, Moshirfar M, Zabbo CP. "Corneal Abrasion." [Updated 2020 Jul 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing, 2021.
  4. Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS. “Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration.” BMJ open ophthalmology, 2018. 
  5. "Small objects in the eye: Do minor eye injuries heal better with or without an eye patch?" InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG), 2006. 
  6. Walsh K, Jones L. “The use of preservatives in dry eye drops.” Clinical ophthalmology (Auckland, N.Z.), 2019.
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