Do minor eye injuries heal better with or without an eye patch?

Photo of a boy at an eye examination (PantherMedia / Tyler Olson)

Eye patches probably don’t help small scratches on the cornea to heal faster. They may even slow down recovery.

If a small object such as a grain of sand gets into your eye or under a contact lens, it may damage your cornea. Minor superficial scratches on the cornea will usually heal by themselves within two to three days.

In the meantime, some people cover their eye with an eye patch to keep it closed and relaxed. In theory, there are reasons for and against using an eye patch. On the one hand, it might speed up the healing process by reducing blinking that irritates the scratch. On the other hand, keeping the eye closed could, for instance, make it more prone to infection.

Eye patches do not speed up recovery

Researchers from the Cochrane Collaboration, an international research network, looked for clinical studies on the effectiveness of using eye patches to treat superficial injuries to the cornea. They found twelve studies with about 1,100 participants who had damaged their cornea in the two days prior to the study and were treated with medication.

Each study compared two groups: In one group the participants only used medication, and in the other they also wore an eye patch.

Overall, the results suggest that eye patches could slow down the healing process somewhat:

  • Without an eye patch, the injuries had healed after one day in 60 out of 100 people.
  • With an eye patch, the injuries had healed after one day in 54 out of 100 people.

So the eye patches delayed the healing process in some of the people with eye injuries.

But the studies had some shortcomings. For instance, those patients who didn’t wear an eye patch used antibiotic ointments more often, which could partly explain why the healing process was somewhat quicker.

Also, the studies only included people with minor injuries to the cornea. It therefore remains unclear whether eye patches could help people with more severe damage to the cornea. The researchers didn’t look into other eye injuries, such as damage caused by chemicals.