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Corneal injury describes an injury to the cornea, the crystal clear (transparent) tissue covering the front of the eye.

See also: Corneal ulcers and infections

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

The cornea works with the lens of the eye to focus images on the retina . Injuries to the cornea are common.

Superficial (surface) corneal injuries, called corneal abrasions, may be caused by:

  • Something getting into the eye (such as sand or dust)
  • Overuse of contact lenses or lenses that don't fit correctly
  • Exposure to ultraviolet radiation

You are more likely to develop a corneal injury if you work in a dusty environment, are exposed to sunlight or artificial ultraviolet light for long periods of time, or if you overuse or have ill-fitting contact lenses.

Penetrating (deep) corneal injuries may occur with major trauma. High speed particles, such as chips from hammering metal on metal, are particularly dangerous.


Signs and tests:


Anyone with severe eye pain needs to be evaluated in an emergency care center or by an ophthalmologist immediately.

Treatment for corneal injuries may involve:

  • Removing any foreign material from the eye
  • Eye patch
  • Antibiotic drops or ointments

DO NOT try to remove an object stuck in your eye without professional medical assistance. See: First aid for eye emergencies

A particle that is large enough to damage the cornea may not be see without a magnifying glass or special eye drops that stain the eye.

You should avoid driving and other potentially dangerous situations while wearing an eye patch, since it can affect your depth perception.

If the corneal injury is due to a chemical burn, seek immediate medical attention. Many household products contain strong acids or other chemicals. Drain cleaners and oven cleaners are particularly dangerous. If chemicals are splashed in the eye, the eye should be IMMEDIATELY flushed with tap water for 15 minutes, and the patient should be quickly taken to the nearest emergency room.

Support Groups:

Expectations (prognosis):

Injuries that affect only the surface of the cornea normally heal very rapidly with treatment, and the eye should be back to normal within 2 days.

Penetrating corneal injuries are much more serious. The outcome dependsd on the specific injury.


Severe corneal injury may require extensive surgery or a cornea transplant.

Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if the injury has not significantly improved in 2 days with treatment.


Safety goggles should be worn at all times when using hand or power tools, when using chemicals, during high impact sports, or in other situations where there is a potential for eye injury. Sunglasses designed to screen ultraviolet light should be worn during prolonged exposure to sunlight, even during the winter.


Brunette DD. Ophthalmology. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2006: chap. 70.

Review Date: 7/28/2008
Reviewed By: Manju Subramanian, MD, Assistant Professor in Ophthalmology, Vitreoretinal Disease and Surgery, Boston University Eye Associates, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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