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What makes a corneal abrasion so painful?

This type of eye injury is painful because the cornea has many very tiny and sensitive little nerves and therefore any disturbance of the epithelium – a barrier of tissue that protects the cornea – will be extremely painful, even if it is only a small abrasion.


Symptoms of a Corneal Abrasion

You will suspect you have had a corneal abrasion if you have:

  • pain, which is worse when you try to open or close your eye
  • a feeling that there is something in your eye
  • tremendous watering when you try to open your eye
  • a red eye
  • sensitivity to light with blurred vision and a headache

Usually, you will have some recollection of a minor injury or something blowing into your eye.



If you have symptoms that indicate a corneal abrasion, you should seek an eye examination from an urgent eye care ophthalmologist. They will conduct a thorough examination including the visual acuity, and put numbing drops into your eye so that it can remain open comfortably during the examination at the slit lamp. The urgent eye care ophthalmologist will put in a small drop of dye called fluorescein. This stains the epithelial defect – or corneal abrasion. The urgent eye care ophthalmologist will use a blue light to illuminate the orange fluorescein dye, which will appear bright yellow where there has been corneal epithelial abrasion.



Now that you know you have a corneal abrasion you will want to get it treated. Fortunately, a minor corneal abrasion that is superficial will often heal within 24-48 hours. If it is excruciating, or there is suspicion of a foreign body, your urgent care ophthalmologist will examine you and remove any subtarsal foreign body, or corneal foreign body, found and give you antibiotic ointment. They may even give you an eye patch and some eye drops to reduce the ciliary spasm and pain. The eye pad would only be worn overnight on the first day of the corneal abrasion. After that, you can wear sunglasses to alleviate the symptoms while the eye is healing. You should not wear your contact lenses until your corneal abrasion has healed or until your ophthalmologist says that you may do so.

A corneal abrasion is very painful. You will most likely guess that you have this condition when you think back about what may have happened to the eye.  Something sharp might have stuck into it or scratched it, it might have been a sports injury, contact lens injury, a baby’s fingernail or something might have blown into your eye while you were walking down your street.

You need to be examined by an urgent eye care ophthalmologist if you think you have a corneal abrasion, and especially if you suspect that you may have a foreign body stuck in your eye, or stuck underneath your upper eyelid, as the doctor will have to remove it before the injury can heal. Having an eye examination is the best way to find out whether you have a corneal abrasion, then the appropriate treatment can be started.


If you are considering Consultation for Eye related issues you can see our prices for treatment and consultation.

Read about Corneal Abrasion & Ulcer treatment.

Miss Jane Olver

Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon
Oculoplastic (Eyelid) & Lacrimal Specialist
Medical Director

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Mr Sajjad Ahmad

Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon
Cornea & External Eye Diseases, Cataract, Keratoconus & Refractive Surgery Specialist

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