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Corneal Abrasions and Corneal Foreign Bodies

(Ocular Foreign Body)


Ann P. Murchison

, MD, MPH, Wills Eye Hospital

Reviewed/Revised May 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
Topic Resources

Foreign bodies in the cornea cause abrasions, resulting in pain and redness, and lead to infections, even after they are removed. Most of these injuries are minor.

The most common injuries involving the surface of the transparent dome on the front surface of the eye (cornea) are

  • Scratches (abrasions)

  • Foreign bodies (objects)


Particles are common causes of corneal abrasions. Particles can be dispersed via explosions, wind, or working with tools (for example, grinding, hammering, or drilling). Contact lenses are a common cause of corneal abrasions. Poorly fitting lenses, lenses worn when the eyes are dry, lenses that have been incompletely cleaned and that have particles attached to them, lenses left in the eyes too long, lenses left in inappropriately during sleep, and forceful or inept removal of lenses can result in scratches on the surface of the eyes. Other common sources of abrasions are

  • Tree branches or falling debris

  • Fingernails

  • Hairbrushes

  • Make-up applicators


Corneal abrasions and foreign bodies usually cause pain, tearing, and a feeling that there is something in the eye. They may also cause redness (due to dilated blood vessels on the surface of the eye) or, occasionally, swelling of the eye and eyelid. Vision may become blurred. Light may cause the muscle that constricts the pupil to undergo a painful spasm.


  • A doctor's evaluation

Prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment of corneal abrasions and foreign bodies can help prevent infection. The diagnosis is based on the person’s symptoms, the circumstances of the injury, and the examination.


Fortunately, the surface cells of the eye regenerate rapidly. Even large corneal abrasions tend to heal in 1 to 3 days. A contact lens should not be worn for 5 days after the abrasion heals. A follow-up examination by an ophthalmologist 1 or 2 days after the injury is wise, but the time frame may vary based on the size and severity of the injury.


  • Removal of foreign bodies

  • Antibiotics

  • Pain relief

Corneal foreign bodies

Prior to removing a corneal foreign body, the doctor usually numbs the surface of the eye with an anesthetic drop (such as proparacaine). The doctor also administers an eye drop containing a dye (fluorescein) that glows under special lighting, making surface objects more visible and revealing abrasions. Using a slit lamp Slit-Lamp Examination A person who has eye symptoms should be checked by a doctor. However, some eye disorders cause few or no symptoms in their early stages, so the eyes should be checked regularly (every 1 to 2... read more or other magnifying instrument, the doctor then removes any remaining foreign objects. Often the foreign object can be lifted out with a moist sterile cotton swab or flushed out with sterile water (irrigation). If the person is able to stare without moving the eye, foreign objects that cannot be dislodged easily with a swab can often be removed painlessly with a sterile hypodermic needle or a special instrument.

When iron or steel foreign bodies are removed, they can leave a ring of rust, which may need to be removed with a sterile hypodermic needle or a low-speed rotary sterile burr (a small surgical tool with a tiny, rotating, grinding, and drilling surface).

Sometimes a foreign body is trapped under the upper eyelid. The eyelid must be flipped over (a painless procedure) to remove the foreign body. Doctors may also gently rub a sterile cotton swab over the inside of the eyelid to remove any tiny particles that may not be visible.

Corneal abrasions

Corneal abrasions are treated similarly whether or not a foreign body was removed. Usually, an antibiotic ointment (for example, bacitracin with polymyxin B) is given for a few days to prevent infection. Large abrasions may require additional treatment. The pupil is kept dilated with cycloplegic eye drops (such as cyclopentolate or homatropine) if people are sensitive to light. These drops prevent painful spasm of the muscles that constrict the pupil.

Pain can be treated with oral drugs such as acetaminophen or occasionally with acetaminophen with oxycodone. Some doctors give diclofenac or ketorolac eye drops to help relieve pain, but care must be taken because these drugs could rarely cause complications such as a type of corneal scarring (called corneal melting). Anesthetics that are applied directly to the eye, although they relieve pain effectively, should not be used after evaluation and treatment because they can impair healing.

Eye patches may increase the risk of infection and usually are not used, particularly for abrasions that result from a contact lens or an object that may be contaminated with soil or vegetable matter.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
Alcaine, Ocu-Caine, Ophthalmicaine , Ophthetic, Parcaine
AK-Fluor, Bio Glo, Fluorescite, Fluorets , Fluor-I-Strip, Fluor-I-Strip A.T., Ful-Glo, Ophthalmicflur
AK-Tracin, Baciguent, BaciiM, Baci-Rx, Ocu-Tracin
No brand name available
AK-Pentolate , Cyclogyl, Cylate, Ocu-Pentolate
7T Gummy ES, Acephen, Aceta, Actamin, Adult Pain Relief, Anacin Aspirin Free, Apra, Children's Acetaminophen, Children's Pain & Fever , Comtrex Sore Throat Relief, ED-APAP, ElixSure Fever/Pain, Feverall, Genapap, Genebs, Goody's Back & Body Pain, Infantaire, Infants' Acetaminophen, LIQUID PAIN RELIEF, Little Fevers, Little Remedies Infant Fever + Pain Reliever, Mapap, Mapap Arthritis Pain, Mapap Infants, Mapap Junior, M-PAP, Nortemp, Ofirmev, Pain & Fever , Pain and Fever , PAIN RELIEF , PAIN RELIEF Extra Strength, Panadol, PediaCare Children's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Children's Smooth Metls Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Infant's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, Pediaphen, PHARBETOL, Plus PHARMA, Q-Pap, Q-Pap Extra Strength, Silapap, Triaminic Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Triaminic Infant Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Tylenol, Tylenol 8 Hour, Tylenol 8 Hour Arthritis Pain, Tylenol 8 Hour Muscle Aches & Pain, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Children's, Tylenol Children's Pain+Fever, Tylenol CrushableTablet, Tylenol Extra Strength, Tylenol Infants', Tylenol Infants Pain + Fever, Tylenol Junior Strength, Tylenol Pain + Fever, Tylenol Regular Strength, Tylenol Sore Throat, XS No Aspirin, XS Pain Reliever
Dazidox , Endocodone , ETH-Oxydose, Oxaydo, OXECTA, OxyContin, Oxydose , OxyFast, OxyIR, Percolone, Roxicodone, Roxybond, XTAMPZA
Aspercreme Arthritis Pain Reliever, Cambia, Cataflam, Dyloject, Flector, Licart, Lofena, Motrin Arthritis Pain, PENNSAID, PROFINAC, Solaravix, Solaraze, VennGel One, Voltaren Arthritis, Voltaren Delayed-Release, Voltaren Gel, Voltaren Ophthalmic, Voltaren-XR, Xrylix II, Zipsor, Zorvolex
Acular, Acular LS, Acular PF, Acuvail , SPRIX, Toradol
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