The medical term for a scratched eye is a corneal abrasion. When an object, such as a fingernail or contact lens scratches your eye or when you get sand or other objects in your eye, they injure your cornea (the clear exterior tissue of the eye). Because the cornea is delicate, it is susceptible to injury. Depending on the severity of the scratch, the symptoms are non-existent, minor, slightly bothersome or severe. Corneal abrasions usually heal without treatment in two days, according to MedlinePlus, but they may take as long as a week. To rule out the possibility of a more severe eye injury, see your doctor if your eye does not feel better within two days.
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You cannot actually see the scratch in your eye with a cornea abrasion injury. If you can see an injury to the eye or if an object is embedded in the eye, get immediate medical attention.
When your cornea is scratched, you may feel like you have an object in your eye, even if there is nothing actually in your eye. Depending on the severity of the scratch, it may feel like there is a piece of sand in your eye or if a large rock. The eye irritation is often extremely bothersome, causing a person to want to rub their eye in an attempt to remove the object. Resist the urge to rub your eye. If there is anything in your eye, rubbing can increase the injury. Even if nothing is in the eye, rubbing will increase the irritation, making the symptoms last longer. If you suspect that there is something in your eye, wash your eye out with water. See a doctor if you cannot remove the offending object.
Pain and Burning
Symptoms of a scratched eye often include pain and burning, which is caused by the injury to the delicate corneal tissue. Your eye may become red or it may water as if it is trying to wash out the offending object. Because the cornea is so sensitive, the pain and burning are often much worse than the injury itself. Although a scratched eye may hurt enough to feel like your eye is severely damaged, most corneal abrasions do not result in permanent eye injury, according to Children's Hospital Boston. If excessive tearing or extreme redness is present, see a doctor to rule out infection or a deeper eye injury.
Sensitivity to Light
When the cornea is injured it sometimes becomes sensitive to light. You will notice this most when outside on a sunny day. Light seems brighter when the cornea is irritated. It feels similar to how your eyes react when you first go outside after sitting through a two-hour movie in the theater. The difference with a scratched eye is that you do not adjust to the bright light after a few minutes. Wearing a pair of sunglasses or covering the injured eye with a patch helps prevent discomfort when light sensitivity is present.
Your eyesight may be slightly blurred when the cornea is scratched. The blurring is temporary and resolves once the injury is healed, usually before. Try to rest your eye often, by closing it or covering it with a patch, to help encourage healing. If your vision is severely blurred, see your doctor to rule out a serious eye injury.