Corneal abrasion

The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped structure at the front of the eye.

A corneal abrasion is a small scratch or graze to the cornea.

Signs and symptoms

  • History of eye trauma
  • Red, painful eye
  • Watering eye 
  • Blurred vision
  • A foreign body sensation (a feeling that something is in your eye)

Diagnosing a corneal abrasion

Usually the diagnosis is confirmed by an ophthalmologist (eye doctor). They examine your cornea with a microscope. A drop of anaesthetic is given to make the examination more comfortable for you. A small amount of dye will also be put onto your eye so that the abrasion can be seen more clearly.

Treatment options

Antibiotic ointment and an eye pad

The eye pad is to keep your eye closed. This allows the cornea to heal without being interrupted by blinking. The cornea usually heals in 2 to 3 days, but follow your doctor’s instructions about how long to use the ointment for.

Lubricants at night

These are used to prevent your eyelid sticking to the cornea while you’re asleep. Otherwise it could tear the healing skin. These lubricants might need to be used for several weeks.


This is a drop that dilates the pupil (makes it bigger) and helps to ease pain. You will have blurred vision for at least 12 hours after these drops. Advice on use of any treatments recommended will be given to you by your nurse or doctor.

Not having treatment

The eye can be very painful, but usually the cornea heals and all symptoms pass.

Sometimes, inflammation and infection can occur if left untreated, and might cause permanent damage. 


If the abrasion is superficial and there is no secondary infection, most corneal abrasions heal quickly and vision returns completely.

In a small number of cases, although the skin over the cornea heals, it does not bind down entirely and can stick to the eyelid at night. This means it can rip when you wake up and open your eyes, or when the eyes move rapidly while dreaming. This is called recurrent corneal erosion syndrome and might need the prolonged use of lubricant eye ointments, and occasionally laser surgery.

If you have any of these symptoms please seek medical advice.

What you can do to help

  • Do not drive if you have been given eye drops that could blur your vision, or if you are given an eye pad.
  • If you are given an eye pad, take extra care, particularly when walking up or down stairs

When to get help

If the symptoms do not go away with treatment after 48 hours, contact the nurse practitioner in eye casualty, phone: 020 7188 4336, Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm. 

Go to, or contact the eye casualty department immediately if:

  • your symptoms get worse

The eye casualty department (rapid access clinic) at St Thomas’ Hospital is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 4.30pm. Outside these hours there is an on-call eye doctor in the main emergency department (A&E) at St Thomas’ Hospital. You can also see your GP.

Resource number: 2223/VER4
Last reviewed: August 2022
Next review: August 2025

Contact us

If your symptoms get worse, please go to, or contact, eye casualty (rapid access eye service) immediately:

Phone: 020 7188 4336

If the symptoms do not go away with treatment after 48 hours, contact the nurse practitioner in eye casualty.

Phone: 020 7188 4336, Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm.

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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