Dry eye disease can lead to corneal abrasions (scratches) in some cases, while injuries to your cornea, such as abrasions, can also lead to dry eye.

Dry eyes are medically known as dry eye disease or dry eye syndrome. They’re one of the most common eye problems, affecting an estimated 5–50% of the world’s population.

A corneal abrasion is the medical term for a scratched eye. Most corneal abrasions are minor, but some can increase your risk of vision loss.

Dry eye disease is associated with increased tear evaporation. One of the functions of your tears is to protect your eyes from irritants like dust or dirt. Changes to your tearing may make your eyes more prone to scratching from these substances.

In reverse, injury or trauma to your cornea may increase your risk of corneal abrasion. For example, dry eyes are one of the most common complications of LASIK surgery.

Let’s examine the link between dry eyes and corneal abrasions more closely.

Dry eyes are the most common factor associated with corneal abrasions. Without tear lubrication, the surface of the eye can dry out, causing an abrasion.

Large corneal abrasions can cause a complication called recurrent erosion syndrome, where the surface of your cornea breaks down. The highest rates of recurrent corneal erosion occur in people whose fingernails frequently come in contact with their eyes and those with:

What else causes corneal abrasions?

Corneal abrasions can be caused by any object with the potential to scratch or scrape the surface of your eyes. Some of the most common causes include:

  • dust and dirt
  • fingernails
  • makeup brushes
  • rubbing your eyes
  • tree branches

The relationship between corneal abrasion and dry eyes can potentially work both ways.

The cornea contains the highest density of sensory nerves of any tissue in your body. Many of the nerves in your eye are responsible for sending pain signals to your brain, but they also control your blinking and tearing reflexes. Damage to the eye can potentially inhibit these reflexes and cause symptoms of dry eyes.

In a 2018 rat study, researchers found that symptoms of eye dryness emerged a week after an eye abrasion injury.

What else causes dry eye?

Dry eyes can occur when:

  • your tear glands do not produce enough tears
  • your tears dry too quickly
  • your tears do not keep your eyes sufficiently wet

Risk factors and potential causes of dry eyes include:

  • increasing age, especially over age 50
  • being female
  • some medications like cold and allergy medications
  • underlying conditions like low thyroid hormone
  • undergoing laser eye surgery
  • environmental factors like exposure to smoke, dry air, or wind
  • staring at a screen for extended periods, which may reduce your blinking rate

Here are some of the potential symptoms of corneal abrasions and dry eyes.

Corneal abrasion symptoms

Symptoms of corneal abrasions can include:

Dry eye symptoms

Dry eye symptoms can include:

  • blurry vision
  • watery eyes
  • light sensitivity
  • red eyes
  • stinging or burning in your eyes
  • scratchy feeling

It’s recommended you see an eye doctor if you have dry eyes after a few weeks of trying home remedies or if you have any change in the shape of your eyelid.

Minor eye irritation from substances like dust or shampoo often resolves on its own. However, it’s a good idea to contact a doctor if your symptoms do not improve after about a day.

Medical emergency

It’s important to have someone drive you to the nearest emergency room if one of the following came in contact with, pierced, or is stuck your eye:

  • object, such as a piece of glass
  • strong chemical, such as bleach
  • anything sharp

It’s also a good idea to get immediate medical attention if your eye injury is causing symptoms like:

  • changes to your vision or vision loss
  • pain when you look at light
  • severe headache or sickness
  • dark red eyes

Doctors can usually diagnose dry eyes or corneal abrasions as part of a comprehensive dilated eye exam. During this exam, they’ll give you eye drops to dilate your pupil to examine the various structures of your eye.

Here are some of the potential treatment options for corneal abrasions and dry eyes.

Corneal abrasion treatment

Most small corneal abrasions heal by themselves. Prescription eyedrops can help reduce your chances of infection. In serious cases, doctors may use:

  • a swab or special instrument to remove an object from your eye
  • laser treatment to reshape your cornea and remove scar tissue
  • temporary contacts that allow the cornea to heal

Dry eye treatment

Treatment for dry eyes includes:

  • using over-the-counter or prescription eye drops
  • addressing underlying medical conditions
  • wearing special contact lenses
  • avoiding allergens
  • reducing screen use or taking more frequent breaks when looking at a screen

Learn more about dry eye treatment.

Dry eyes and corneal abrasions are common problems that can lead to each other.

Decreased friction caused by dry eyes makes the surface of your eye more prone to damage from particles like dust or dirt. Corneal abrasion can increase your risk of dry eyes by disrupting your blinking or tearing reflex.

It’s a good idea to visit a doctor if you have dry eyes that do not respond to home remedies after a couple of weeks or if you have a scratch to your eye that causes symptoms for more than 24 hours.