Use of Topical Anesthetics in the Management of Patients With Simple Corneal Abrasions: Consensus Guidelines From the American College of Emergency Physicians

Ann Emerg Med. 2024 May;83(5):477-489. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2024.01.004. Epub 2024 Feb 6.


The management of corneal abrasions has largely excluded dispensing topical local anesthetics for home use due to concern for corneal toxicity. We have reviewed and critically appraised the available literature evidence regarding the use of topical anesthetics in patients with simple corneal abrasions. Using sequential Delphi review, we have developed these clinical guidelines. Herein are evidentiary summaries and consensus recommendations for 8 specific relevant questions. Our key observation is that for only simple corneal abrasions, as diagnosed and treated in accordance with the full protocol described herein, it appears safe to prescribe or otherwise provide a commercial topical anesthetic (ie, proparacaine, tetracaine, oxybuprocaine) for use up to every 30 minutes as needed during the first 24 hours after presentation, as long as no more than 1.5 to 2 mL total (an expected 24-hour supply) is dispensed and any remainder is discarded after 24 hours. Importantly, although published findings suggest absent harm for short courses, more rigorous studies with a greater cumulative sample size and ophthalmologic follow-up are needed.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Cornea
  • Corneal Injuries* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Physicians*
  • Tetracaine


  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Tetracaine