WHY ARE CORNEAL ABRASIONS SO PAINFUL? By Dr. Lisa Bennett, Ophthalmologist at Madison Medical Eye Care in Mequon & Saukville, Wisconsin
This may have happened to you: A sudden onset of intense pain in one eye, light sensitivity and copious tearing. It may even feel like there is something in your eye. You go in for an evaluation with your eye care professional and find out that you have a tiny scratch on the surface of your eye. Why should such a tiny injury hurt so much? The answer is that the cornea, or clear part of the front of your eye, has the highest density of sensory nerve fibers of any part of the body. The pain from a huge abrasion may not feel that much worse than the pain from a small scratch. The pain will persist until the injury has become initially healed.
The cornea is a layered structure. The outer layer is called the epithelium and this is the layer that is usually affected by an abrasion. Abrasions can be caused by dryness, accidental injury (baby fingernails are a common culprit), removing a contact lens too roughly or from a small particle flying in your eye. We generally treat them with lubrication in the form of artificial tears and antibiotic drops to prevent infection. We usually recommend NOT wearing contact lenses until the injury has healed. An exception would be if the abrasion is particularly large, then a bandage contact lens may be applied and left on day and night for several days.
Once the pain resolves, you are still not completely healed as the surface epithelium has to lay “footplates” down to the layer below. This can take up to 6 weeks so eye rubbing is strictly forbidden during that time or you risk the problems starting all over again. Most abrasions heal well but can be quite miserable in the meantime. Remember we are here to help should this happen to you.
Dr. Lisa Bennett is an MD Ophthalmologist (Eye Physician & Surgeon) practicing with Dr. Martha Jay and Dr. James Ivanoski at Madison Medical Eye Care in Mequon & Saukville, Wisconsin. She specialized in medical and surgical eye care such as small incision cataract surgery and blade-free LASIK.
For more eye care information, call 262-241-1919 or visit www.MadisonMedicalEyeCare.com.