Corneal Injury

Cross section of eye showing cornea, pupil, iris, and lens.An eye injury can hurt your cornea. Your cornea is the clear layer on the front of your eye. It protects your eye from dust and germs, and helps filter out harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays. The cornea also helps to focus light entering your eye. Your cornea is made of strong proteins, but it can be damaged. A slight cut or scratch (abrasion) to the cornea can be very painful. But that is often minor and can heal within 1 or 2 days. A bad abrasion or a hole (puncture) in the cornea can be very serious. These are medical emergencies.

Something in your eye

If you think you have something small in your eye, flush it with water right away. Pull your upper lid out and over your bottom lid. This will help increase the flow of tears across your eye. If these methods don’t work, call your healthcare provider. Never try to remove an object from your eye that doesn’t flush out easily with water. Doing so may cause more damage.

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have:

  • Severe eye pain

  • A puncture injury or bad abrasion

  • Something in your eye that you can’t flush out with water

  • A very swollen or painful eye after removing an object

  • A chemical burn

  • An object embedded in your eye. Cover both eyes with a sterile compress and keep both eyes closed while you wait for help. Don't put any pressure on your eyes.

What to expect in the ER

For minor abrasions 

Minor abrasions are usually treated with eye drops or ointment. You may be given antibiotics to prevent infection. Most abrasions heal in 1 or 2 days. To help rule out more serious injuries, you may have tests including:

  • A standard eye exam to check how well you can see

  • A Seidel test, which uses a special dye to look for a hole in the surface of your eye

Depending on the results of these tests, you may be referred to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist).

For serious abrasions or punctures

You will be referred directly to an ophthalmologist for emergency treatment. An eye specialist is needed to reduce further damage and possible vision loss.