How To Treat A Scratched Eye

Published on 01/07/2022

Scratched eyes are common, typically the result of foreign objects getting trapped underneath an eyelid and rubbed against the surface of the eye, or objects passing across an open eye as the result of flying or windborne debris in the workplace or outdoors.

While the resulting scratch can be excruciatingly painful and irritating to start, the good news is that eyes tend to heal quickly. The first step is to assess the situation, determine whether or not an eye doctor should examine it, and how to move forward with treating the scratch for comfort and vision’s sake.

The most telling sign of a scratch on the surface of your eye is the feeling that something is stuck in your eye or under your eyelid. Read our post Removal of Foreign Object From Eye: DIY or Eye Doctor. Follow those instructions to flush and examine the eye. If the cornea is intact, your eye will feel immediately better once the object is removed. If the object scratched the eye, you’d continue to experience discomfort and other symptoms.

Scratched Cornea (Scratched Eye) Symptoms

There’s no question about it when you have a corneal abrasion (scratched eye). It feels like a shard of glass or wood is in your eye as you blink and blink to no avail, even if the offending scratch was caused by a very small piece of lint, dirt, or plant matter.

Symptoms include:

  • Excessive watery eyes and tears
  • Pain and discomfort
  • The uncomfortable sensation that something is in your eye and you can’t get it out
  • Redness
  • Light sensitivity
  • Temporary blurred vision
  • Headache (usually due to inflammation that affects the sinus cavities)

In most cases, corneal abrasions heal on their own with rest and a little TLC. If you are concerned about the level of scratching there is, or there are more severe symptoms such as increasing pain, visible bleeding/punctures, or continued vision decline, get to urgent care and/or contact your eye doctor immediately follow their instructions.

Tips For Treating A Scratched Eye At Home

If you are confident the injury isn’t serious enough to warrant attention from a medical professional, there are several things you can do to heal faster - and more comfortably - on your own at home.

Avoid rubbing the eyes

Whatever you do, resist the urge to rub your eyes! This can be difficult as rubbing irritated eyes is a habitual response. However, if there is anything in your eyes, or if the cornea is inflamed, rubbing your eyes worsens the scratch and slows down the healing process.

Flush and bathe the eye

Follow the instructions provided in the post we linked to above to dislodge foreign particles, just to make sure your eye is free and clear of any more debris or particulate matter that makes the current scratch worse.

Follow these instructions to flush the eye.

If you have an eyecup and optical irrigation solution in your medicine cabinet or a first-aid kit, this is the time to use it. Read and follow the instructions. If you don’t have one, don't worry. You can flush your eyes on your own using one of a few methods:

  • Under a faucet. Run a stream of lukewarm water from a sink faucet. If you are able to, hold your head sideways under the stream so the water runs generously over the surface of your eye. Hold the lower lids open a bit if you are able. If it’s hard to get your head under the stream or the thought of the faucet water is difficult, your cupped, washed hand to catch the water from the faucet and direct the water into your eye.
  • With a small, clean drinking glass. If it appeals, you can fill a small, clean drinking glass with lukewarm water and hold the rim of the glass against the lower bone of the eye socket. Tip it with your head turned sideways and slowly pour the water over the eyeball. Repeat as necessary.
  • In the shower. Similarly, you can hop into a lukewarm shower and let the shower water flow into your hand and into the eye with your head tilted sideways. Your eye will do the blinking for you.

Use over-the-counter pain medications

Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and/or pain medications can also help to relieve irritation, swelling, and discomfort. Make sure to clear that with your physician or nurse hotline first if you don’t normally use OTC medications. This can be particularly helpful before you go to sleep.

Use preservative-free soothing eye drops

To keep the eye moist, use preservative-free eye drops to soothe and lubricate the irritated eye membranes. Make sure the packaging states that the drops are preservative- or chemical-free to minimize the potential for more irritation.

Look for the drops in the eye care section of your local drug store, pharmacy, or grocery store. Brand names that specialize in chemical-free options include Systane and Refresh.

Wear sunglasses as needed

You may feel you need to don sunglasses 24/7 - even while indoors. That’s just fine. Protecting your eyes from their temporary light sensitivity is soothing. If you don’t have prescription lenses, you can buy tinted wrap-around options at your local pharmacy OR contact your eye doctor. S/he may be willing to give you a pair for very cheap or free, as we often hand these out to patients after certain pupil dilating procedures or to protect their eyes after a LASIK or cataract surgery.

Avoid wearing contact lenses

Contact lenses make matters worse. Beyond exacerbating existing irritation, wearing contacts with a scratched eye increases your risk of developing an eye infection. Wear eyeglasses until your eye is healed completely, without any eye pain, redness, tearing, or irritation.

To get a good night’s sleep…

We mentioned using OTC pain meds to support your comfort as the scratched eye heals itself. You can also apply a cold, moist compress - using a clean, soft cloth - to soothe the eye tissues and relieve inflammation. If you’re up for it, an ice pack wrapped in a soft cloth can also help. Use a cold compress or ice pack for up to 20 minutes before you go to bed.

We also recommend dimming the lights and skipping screen time to prevent dry eye, irritation, or light sensitivity that further inflames or irritates the eyes. Tonight, it might be best to put on your favorite relaxing playlist, podcast, or audiobook. Then, sit back, relax, close your eyes - and give them a night off.

Are you worried your scratched eye isn’t healing as it should or is your DIY treatment for a scratched eye not working? Schedule an exam with us here at Eye to Eye Family Vision Care. 918-227-3937.