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The medical term for a scratched eye is a corneal abrasion. Your cornea is the thin layer of tissue that covers your iris and pupil. Most of the time, a scratched cornea is a minor injury that can heal itself in 1 to 5 days.

Your cornea contains many nerve endings that alert your brain that something is wrong when it’s injured. Even a minor injury can cause sharp pain that can affect your sleep quality.

The following tips may help minimize your pain and help you get a good night’s sleep.

Sleeping can help speed up your body’s healing process, but your scratched eye may make getting rest difficult. Here are some tips to help you minimize your pain and help you fall asleep.

1. Avoid sleeping on the side of the affected eye

Sleeping on the side of your injury may put direct pressure on your eyeball, which makes your pain worse. Sleeping on your back or your opposite side can help minimize pressure on your eye.

2. Take pain relievers

If the pain from your scratched eye is affecting your sleep, you may want to take a pain reliever before bed to dull the ache. You can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. If your pain is severe, your eye doctor may give you pain-relieving eyedrops.

Adults can take 650 to 1,000 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen every 4 to 6 hours and shouldn’t exceed 3,000 mg per day. The recommended dose of ibuprofen is 200 to 400 mg every 4 to 6 hours, and you shouldn’t exceed 3,200 mg per day.

3. Use eyedrops

Eyedrops may help keep your eyes from drying out during the night.

When your eyes are dry, increased friction between your eyelid and your cornea can worsen your pain. Eyedrops can keep your eyes moist and reduce friction.

You should speak with a doctor before using eyedrops. Some types like redness-reducing eyedrops may increase your pain.

4. Apply a cold compress

Applying a cold compress over your closed eyelids may help reduce inflammation and pain. You can make a cold compress by putting ice cubes in a plastic bag and wrapping the bag in a cloth. A wet paper towel may also help.

You can keep the cold compress over your eye for up to 20 minutes.

5. Dim the lights

Eye pain after a scratch is caused by irritation of ciliary nerves and spasms of your ciliary muscles that change the shape of your eye lens. These muscle spasms may irritate your trigeminal nerve and increase light sensitivity.

Keeping your lights dim may help you avoid irritating your eye. Dimming your screens may also help reduce your eye pain.

Even a minor scratch can be painful due to the high concentrations of nerve endings in your cornea. Some of the signs that you may have scratched your cornea include:

If you’re dealing with a corneal scratch, you’ll likely only notice your symptoms in one eye unless you injured both sides.

Treatment for a scratched eye starts with rinsing your eye with a sterile saline solution or eyedrops right away to clear any particles. If that’s not available, use clean water. Blinking rapidly may also help clear your eye. It’s a good idea to avoid rubbing your eye or touching it directly.

Most of the time, scratches will heal by themselves after a few days.

Your eye doctor may give you prescription numbing eyedrops to help manage pain and light sensitivity. If they think you’re at risk for an infection, they may give you antibiotic eyedrops. Prescription steroid eyedrops can also help reduce inflammation and scarring.

Most eye scratches will heal by themselves in a few days, but it’s still a good idea to see your eye doctor so they can assess the scratch.

An eye doctor can put a dye called fluorescein in your eye that highlights the scratch under a device called a slit lamp. This dye helps them figure out the seriousness of the injury and give you the best treatment.

Medical emergency

Go to an emergency room if you experience:

  • severe pain
  • inability to open your eye
  • vision loss

Most of the time, a scratched cornea is a minor injury that will heal by itself. Due to the high density of nerve endings in your cornea, even a small injury can be painful.

To minimize pain while sleeping, it’s a good idea to avoid sleeping on the side of your injured eye. If the pain is still affecting your sleep, you may benefit from taking pain relievers before bed.

It’s a good idea to visit an eye doctor after your injury so these can assess the damage and help you reduce the chances of developing scarring.