There you were, playing on the beach with your friends, and all of a sudden your eye started to hurt a little. It turned wet and runny, and you could barely see out of it.
What's going on? It's an eye injury called a corneal abrasion.
What Is a Corneal Abrasion?
Most of your eyeball sits in a pocket of bone called the orbital bone, which protects a lot of your eye. But it can't protect the part that faces out. The cornea is a clear tissue that covers and protects the iris (the colored part) and the pupil (the black part).
Your corneas — you have one in each eye — help your eyes focus so you see properly. Just like a skin abrasion is a scratch or scrape on your skin, a corneal abrasion occurs when something scratches, cuts, or damages the cornea.
Just about anything that gets in your eye can damage the cornea. This includes dust, sand, hay, sparks, bugs, pieces of paper, makeup, or even your own fingernail. If it can get in there, it can make a scratch.
Your eyelids and eyelashes try to keep stuff out of your eyes. Your tears also will try to help. If something like sand gets in your eye, your eye will water to try and flush it out. Still, scratches happen sometimes.
Tell a parent or other adult if you have something in your eye. You'll want to have a doctor check it out. Usually, a corneal abrasion heals in a few days and doesn't cause any other problems.
What Are the Symptoms of a Corneal Abrasion?
A corneal abrasion affects the way the cornea works, so it can cause vision problems. Things may appear blurry or you may not be able to see as well. Other symptoms can include:
Until you can visit the doctor, ask an adult to help you take these steps:
If you wear contact lenses, take them out.
Rinse your eye with clean water or a saline solution. Many schools have eye-rinse stations that you can use.
Blink several times or pull your upper eyelid over your lower one. Your lower eyelash may be able to brush away something stuck to the underside of your upper eyelid. Pulling on your eyelid will also cause your eyes to produce tears, which can help wash away foreign objects.
And follow these rules so you don't make the eye injury worse:
Don't rub your eye.
Don't touch it with anything like a cotton swab or tweezers.
Don't try to remove something that's stuck in your eye.
What Do Doctors Do?
You'll need to see the doctor if you have an eye problem that could be a scratched cornea. The doctor will make sure the corneal abrasion isn't serious. And your doctor will help you treat the abrasion so it heals and doesn't get worse.
The doctor will examine your eye and will want to know:
when the problem started
what got in your eye (you might not know)
what symptoms you're having (watery eyes, pain, etc.)
if it's affecting your vision
In some cases, the doctor will do a test on your eye to see if you have a corneal abrasion. A fluid called fluorescein is placed on the surface of the eye, and then the doctor looks at the eye under a light that is filtered blue. The fluorescein causes the abrasion to glow bright green under the light. The doctor may also do some vision tests.
If something is still in your eye, your doctor can safely remove it. He or she also may tell you to use eye drops or ointment for a couple of days. If your eye hurts, the doctor may suggest pain medications. If you wear contact lenses, your doctor may tell you not to wear them for a few days.
If the corneal abrasion doesn't heal in a few days or if any of your symptoms get worse, let a doctor know right away.
How Can I Prevent a Corneal Abrasion?
You can prevent injuries by wearing eye protection (such as goggles or a facemask) when you're enjoying sports like skiing, snowboarding, hockey, and lacrosse. Safety goggles can protect your eyes when you're using tools or experimenting in science class.
If you go outside on a sunny day, wear sunglasses, especially if you're on the water or out in the snow. If you have pets, be careful when you're playing with them because cats, dogs, and other animals can scratch an eye by accident.
If you wear contact lenses, make sure they fit properly and always use them as directed. Keep your fingernails neatly trimmed so you don't scratch your eye when you put in or remove your contacts.