What Is the Cornea?

The cornea is the clear outer window at the front of the eye that covers the iris and pupil. It allows light to enter the eye and is responsible for the majority of the eye’s focusing power. Most refractive vision conditions — including nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism — are caused by asymmetrical corneas or corneas that have suboptimal curvature.

Because the cornea sits at the front of the eye and plays such a prominent role in your ability to focus, any damage it sustains can significantly affect your vision. There are a number of common corneal conditions, including corneal abrasions.

What Is a Corneal Abrasion?

A corneal abrasion is simply a scratch in the epithelium, the thin, outermost layer of the cornea. Abrasions usually heal in as little as a few hours, though deeper, larger scratches may take up to a week to heal. That said, the high concentration of nerve endings in the cornea makes any damage to the area very painful.

Common symptoms of corneal abrasions include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Acute pain in the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision
  • The feeling that there is something in your eye
  • Twitching eyelid

Common causes of corneal abrasions include:

  • Foreign body in the eye
  • Contact lenses
  • Chemicals
  • Eye trauma
  • Scratched eye (by fingernails, hairbrushes, tree branches, etc.)

Diagnosing Corneal Abrasions

Corneal abrasions can be identified through a quick examination of your eyes with magnifying instruments. Your doctor will check your eye (including under your eyelid) to make sure there are no foreign materials present, and may use fluorescein dye to help locate and identify corneal abrasions. They may also perform a Seidel test, which involves painting the wound with dye and observing any leakage.

Treating Corneal Abrasions

If it is discovered that you have a corneal abrasion, your doctor may apply a topical anesthetic to help relieve the pain. Typically, a tight patch will then be placed over your eye. If the abrasion is small, the epithelium should heal overnight; if the abrasion is large, it may take a few days to heal, and your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help prevent infections. It is important that you avoid rubbing your scratched eye during the healing process.

Diagnosing Corneal Diseases

Beyond abrasions, corneas are susceptible to a variety of diseases, from ordinary infections to degenerative conditions like keratoconus, a thinning or deformation of the cornea. In fact, corneal eye disease is one of the leading causes of blindness, and affects more than 10 million people around the world.

If your eye care specialist suspects you might have a corneal condition, they’ll use topography equipment that consists of a computer linked to a lighted bowl containing a pattern of rings to create a map of the surface of your eye. During a diagnostic test, you will sit in front of this bowl with your head pressed against a bar while a series of data points are generated. Computer software then uses these data points to produce a printout of your corneal shape, using different colors to identify different elevations — much like how a topographical map of the earth displays changes in the land’s surface. This test doesn’t involve any contact with the eye, meaning it’s painless and brief.

If it turns out you have keratoconus (or another similar corneal condition), your eye care specialist may recommend a treatment plan that involves the use of Intacs® Inserts. These are micro-thin prescription inserts that are placed in the peripheral layer of the cornea, reshaping it in a way that produces clearer vision.

Corneal Transplants

In some cases, the cornea can become so severely damaged that any treatment short of surgery will be ineffective. In these instances, a surgeon may recommend a corneal transplant, which, in some ways, is similar to cataract surgery.

Whatever course of treatment is right for you, our experienced team of eye care professionals will work with you to ensure your eyes receive the best care possible. If you think you may have a corneal abrasion or corneal disease, make an appointment with us today, and we’ll find the most efficient and affordable way to help you see the world clearly once again.

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