• First Aid for Eye Scratches

    By Kierstan Boyd and Dan Gudgel
    Reviewed By Brenda Pagan-Duran MD
    Edited By David Turbert
    Mar. 09, 2022

    Housework and sports are two of the most common causes of eye injuries. But even cooking or playing with your dog or cat can get you a scratched eye. You might have symptoms right away or the symptoms may start or get worse hours after the injury.

    What Does a Scratched Eye Feel Like?

    Some common symptoms of a scratched eye include:

    If you've scratched the white part of your eye, you may see a spot of blood, a scratched line or an area of general redness on your conjunctiva or sclera.

    If you've scratched or scraped your cornea — the clear, round dome at the front of the eye, that covers the iris and pupil — you may experience more severe symptoms:

    This is called a corneal abrasion and it can permanently affect your vision. It's important to see an ophthalmologist right away. If you're in a lot of pain, are having any trouble seeing or are worried about your eye, go to the emergency room.

    Can a Scratched Eye Heal on its Own?

    Sometimes. Most corneal abrasions and eye scratches are minor and will heal on their own in a few days, but it's always a good idea to see a doctor for an eye exam.

    It's important not to use any eye drops without first asking a doctor. There are no over-the-counter eye drops specifically for eye scratches. Your ophthalmologist may treat an eye scratch with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. Steroid eye drops may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and reduce the chance of scarring. You may also be given lubricating eye drops to make you more comfortable.

    How Should I Treat an Eye Scratch or Scrape?

    Here are some do's and don'ts when caring for an eye scratch:

    • Do rinse your eye with saline solution or clean water. If you don't have an eyecup, use a small, clean glass. Rest the rim of the glass on the bone at the base of your eye socket, below your lower eyelid. The water or saline solution may flush the foreign object from your eye.
    • Do blink. Blinking can help get rid of small bits of dust or sand in your eye.
    • Do pull your upper eyelid over your lower eyelid. The lashes from your lower eyelid may be able to brush away any foreign object caught underneath your upper eyelid.
    • Do wear sunglasses. If your eye is sensitive to light because of the scratch, sunglasses will make you more comfortable while you heal.
    • Don't rub your eye. Rubbing your eye can make the scratch worse.
    • Don't touch your eye with anything. Fingers, cotton swabs and other objects won't help remove any foreign objects and could hurt your eye more. The object that caused the scratch may be gone even though you still feel like something is in your eye.
    • Don't wear your contact lenses. Wearing your contact lenses will slow the healing process and could cause complications, like contact lens-related infections.
    • Don't use redness-relieving eye drops. Over-the-counter redness-reducing eye drops can be painful if you have an eye scratch and they won’t help you heal any faster.

    How Long Does a Scratched Eye Take to Heal?

    Eyes often heal very quickly, so an eye scratch may heal faster than a cut on your skin would. But each scratch is different and there’s no way to predict exactly how long it will take for an eye scratch to heal. Your ophthalmologist can tell you what to expect after they've examined your eye. 

    Ask your eye doctor these questions during your appointment:

    • How long will the pain last?
    • How long should I take my eye medication?
    • Are there any activities I should avoid while my eye heals?

    If your symptoms go on for longer than the doctor told you to expect—or get worse—you should get in touch with your doctor to find out what to do next.