Chemical cauterization of the central cornea with silver nitrate was assessed as a superficial injury model of tissue sensitization accompanying acute inflammation. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were anesthetized with halothane gas, and the centers of their right corneas treated with a silver nitrate applicator stick (75% silver nitrate, 25% potassium nitrate) to produce a discrete lesion 1 mm in diameter. Edema of the corneal stroma and elevated immune cell counts became significant 4 h after cauterization, and were still evident after 48 h. Behavioral sensitization to chemical stimuli was determined by counting the number of blinks following application of 1 μM capsaicin directly to the corneal surface. A significant increase in stimulus-induced blinking was evident 2 h after cauterization. Chemical sensitization peaked at 6 h, and was no longer significant at 12 h. We conclude that silver nitrate cauterization produces acute corneal inflammation and hyperalgesia, and may prove a useful model for the study of primary afferent nociceptors.