Caring for Your Cornea
5 August 2019
The cornea is a clear, protective layer that functions as the eye’s shield against germs, dirt and other damaging particles; it also filters dangerous ultraviolet light coming from the sun. Most importantly, the cornea is a key component of your vision – light entering the eye is refracted by the cornea’s curved edge, determining how well you can focus on objects that are near or far.
What Happens if Cornea is Damaged?
Since it is the most exposed part of the eye, superficial injuries – like scratches and abrasions – are relatively common, often caused by the presence of foreign particles. It could be something as simple as rubbing your eyes and introducing dust and dirt to your eyelid or a more serious injury which could lead to vision problems or scarring. Stray fingernails and sharp objects are sometimes responsible for moderate and severe corneal abrasions.
Cornea Damage Symptoms
The cornea is a highly sensitive area of the eye and should be given great care. A small scratch may cause extreme discomfort and pain, making your eyes more prone to infection and vision disruption.
What happens when the cornea is damaged? You may experience the following symptoms:
- Redness in the eye
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye discharge
- Vision loss
- Occasional nausea
- A feeling that there is something in the eye like sand or an eyelash
What Causes Damage to your Cornea
Dust, debris, makeup brushes, sports equipment, getting poked in the eye—anything that comes in contact with the eye’s surface can be responsible for a corneal abrasion. Even just rubbing your eyes when you’re tired can affect the corneal surface.
Contact lenses can also cause abrasion. Cornea damage from contacts can happen when you wear them for too long or if you fail to clean them properly. If your contacts are also cracked or damaged and you still wear them, they may scratch the surface of your eye and cause cornea damage. High levels of hygeine should always be practiced with contact lenses.
Other causes include:
- Dry eyes. Tears help wash away dirt and irritants from the eye’s surface and keep it clean and moist. This prevents damages and irritations from small particles and injuries. But when your eyes are dried out or not producing enough tears, they become more susceptible to cornea damage. Dry eye is common as we get older but can also be causes by allergies, skin conditions or chemical exposure.
- Eye infections. Your corneas do not contain blood vessels, leaving them defenseless against infections. Viral infections in the cornea include herpes zoster (shingles) and herpes simplex (the cold sore virus). These infections can cause severe discomfort and vision problems.
- Corneal dystrophies. There are over 20 types of corneal dystrophies affecting different parts of the cornea. Typically, dystrophies are inherited and manifest differently. Some cause severe visual impairment and pain, while others show few symptoms during the early stages.
Can a cornea be repaired after sustaining damage?
Depending on the cause of corneal damage, eyes can typically repair over time with treatment. However, for deeper injuries, the healing process may take longer and could possibly result in common symptoms like blurred vision and pain. When untreated, deep cornea scratches may lead to corneal ulcer, which occurs as painful red eyes with discharges and reduced vision. Corneal ulcer is a result of bacterial infection that follows an eye injury.
Damaged Cornea Treatments
At Eye Specialists, we treat many causes of corneal damage. Treatment depends on the severity and nature of the damage to the cornea. Minor scratches and abrasions typically heal with time; the cells on the eye’s surface slide over and cover the wound. Patients are usually advised to use eye drops to support the natural healing process. Superficial abrasions tend to heal within a few days. Deeper corneal abrasions may take longer to heal, with a lasting impact on overall vision.
In some instances, scratched corneas are treated using bandage contact lenses. These are special lenses designed to protect damaged corneas from rubbing of the eyes or blinking of the eyelids, so the eyes can heal faster. Patients are discouraged from using regular contact lenses as these may increase the risk of eye infections.
But there are also some cases when minor abrasions are required to be treated with antibiotic eye drops to avoid infections during healing. More serious abrasions may also need to be treated by antibiotic ointments, steroids to minimise scarring, pain relievers and medication to aid in light sensitivity. Deeper corneal abrasions may take longer to heal, with a lasting impact on overall vision.
How to Avoid Damaging your Cornea
While a corneal abrasion is common, you can minimise your risk by taking simple precautions. If dusty, dirty work environments or chemicals are part of your day to day, use protective eyewear and avoid exposure as much as possible. Do you wear contact lenses? Cornea damage from contact lenses can be avoided simply by following the care instructions that came in the box, with particular attention to the usage and guidelines, discarding them on the expiry date.
Practicing good hygiene like washing your hands before touching your eyes—whether or not you wear contact lenses—is also a critical step in preventing cornea damage.
If you suspect that you have cornea damage, visit your local emergency department or consult an eye care professional, such as a trusted ophthalmologist at Eye Specialists. We offer the utmost care and attention to our patients, utilising advanced technology in treating ocular diseases and other related conditions. You can visit us in our Kotara and Nelson Bay Clinics. Contact Eye Specialists today and schedule a consultation.