Short-Term Topical Tetracaine Is Highly Efficacious for the Treatment of Pain Caused by Corneal Abrasions: A Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial

Ann Emerg Med. 2021 Mar;77(3):338-344. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2020.08.036. Epub 2020 Oct 27.


Study objective: The objective of this study is to show that patients with corneal abrasions would experience more pain relief with short-term topical tetracaine than placebo.

Methods: The study was a prospective, double-blind, randomized trial of tetracaine versus placebo set in the emergency department (ED). A total of 118 adults who presented with uncomplicated corneal abrasions were included and randomized. The intervention was either topical tetracaine or placebo applied every 30 minutes as needed for 24 hours. The primary outcome was the overall numeric rating scale pain score measured at the 24- to 48-hour ED follow-up examination.

Results: One hundred eleven patients were included in the final analysis, 56 in the tetracaine group and 55 in the placebo group. At the 24- to 48-hour follow-up, the overall numeric rating scale pain score after use of the study drops was significantly lower in the tetracaine group (1) versus placebo group (8) (Δ7; 95% confidence interval 6 to 8). Patients in the tetracaine group used less hydrocodone than those in the placebo group. The complication rates between the 2 groups were similar.

Conclusion: Short-term topical tetracaine is an efficacious analgesic for acute corneal abrasions, is associated with less hydrocodone use compared with placebo, and was found to be safe in this sample.

Trial registration: NCT04187417.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Corneal Injuries / complications*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Eye Pain / drug therapy*
  • Eye Pain / etiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tetracaine / administration & dosage*
  • Tetracaine / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics
  • Tetracaine

Associated data