Scratched eye symptoms

Updated March 23, 2017

Do you have the constant feeling of having something in your eye? Has your baby's eye become red with no apparent cause? Is your child digging at his eyes and complaining about pain? These are all common symptoms of a scratched eye, one of the most common eye injuries. Knowing the symptoms of a scratched eye will help you get a prompt diagnosis if you or your child has this injury.

Causes of a Scratched Eye

The technical term for a scratched eye is corneal abrasion. This occurs when the surface layer of the cornea is broken. The cornea is the clear part of the eye through which light enters, hitting the optic nerve and allowing us to see. Most cases of corneal abrasion occur when the patient has undergone a trauma that injured the eye, but an eyelash that turns in or an infection of the eyelid can also cause it. A speck that gets into the eye and is not flushed out quickly can be a cause, and children can injure their corneas by accidentally scratching their eyes.


Patients with scratched eyes will have excessive tearing, redness of the white of the eye and sometimes pain. Some patients with this condition are sensitive to light. The most common symptom of a scratched eye is the feeling that something is in the eye. The patient will blink continually. Children whose eyes are scratched will usually rub their eyes, and babies will be very fussy with no apparent cause and bat at the affected eye.

First Aid

Prompt medical treatment for a scratched eye is important. According to the Mayo Clinic, corneal abrasions can become infected, which leads to a corneal ulcer. While you are waiting to see the doctor, you can perform some basic first aid. The Mayo Clinic recommends rinsing the eye with saline solution to remove any foreign bodies. Blinking can also help flush out the eye. If this does not help, pull your upper eyelid over the lower one for a moment. Do not rub or touch your eye, as this will make the injury worse.


The most common diagnostic test used for patients with scratched eye symptoms is a fluorescein eye exam. This involves placing an orange dye in the eye. The dye does not cause any discomfort and is easily flushed out by tears. Once the dye has soaked in, the doctor will shine a fluorescent light into the eye, looking for scratches. If the eye is scratched, the scratches will appear orange, because the dye will stick to them.


According to Dr. Mitsugu Shimmyo, a New York ophthalmologist, the most common treatment for a scratched eye is an eye patch. The patch keeps the eye sanitary and blocks the light, allowing the cornea to heal. Many doctors and ophthalmologists will prescribe antibiotics to ward off infection. If the patient is experiencing a lot of pain, anesthetic drops can help. If these steps are not practical or do not work, a soft contact lens without a prescription can be inserted to serve as a "bandage" for the scratched cornea.

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About the Author

Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006, specializing in real estate, finance and travel. When she's not writing, she enjoys traveling and has visited several countries, including Israel, Spain, France and Guam. Harms received a Bachelor of Science in Education from Maranatha Baptist Bible College.