The Safety of Topical Anesthetics in the Treatment of Corneal Abrasions: A Review

Anand Swaminathan, Karalynn Otterness, Ken Milne, Salim Rezaie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background Despite the fact that topical anesthetics provide superb analgesia to the painful eye, they are not prescribed routinely to patients when they are discharged from the emergency department because of concerns for delayed healing and corneal erosion. Objective To summarize the evidence for the safety of topical proparacaine and tetracaine for pain relief in patients with corneal abrasions. Methods This is a systematic review looking at the use of topical anesthetic agents in the treatment of corneal abrasions in the emergency department. Results Our literature search produced two emergency department-based, randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled studies on human patients with corneal abrasions. Additionally, we found four studies that investigated the application of topical anesthetics in patients who underwent photorefractive keratectomy. All six studies demonstrated that a short course of dilute topical anesthetic provided efficacious analgesia without adverse effects or delayed epithelial healing. Conclusion Limited available data suggests that the use of dilute topical ophthalmologic proparacaine or tetracaine for a short duration of time is effective, though their safety for outpatient use is inconclusive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)810-815
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • corneal abrasions
  • proparacaine
  • tetracaine
  • topical anesthetic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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