Eye emergencies cover a range of incidents and symptoms such as: scratches, foreign objects, chemical exposure, ulcers and other inflammation, infections, flashes, floaters, and sudden vision loss. It is very important to contact your optometrist when you have an emergency as they are specialists on one of the most complex organs of the body. Urgent Care Centers and Emergency Rooms may have unnecessary wait times and will not have specialized experience in eye conditions like your OD.
If you have any of the following symptoms, call an optometrist to be seen
Bleeding or other discharge from or around the eye
Decreased or distorted vision
Loss of vision, total or partial, in one eye or both
Flashes of light
Floating spots in vision
Pupils of unequal size
New or severe headaches
Redness or bloodshot appearance
A sensation of something in the eye
Sensitivity to light
Stinging or burning in the eye
One eye is not moving like the other
One eye is sticking out or bulging
Nausea or headache occurring with eye pain
Any eye injury, inflammation, or infection should be addressed right away. These types of emergencies are usually painful or irritating at the least and we want you to have relief as soon as possible. Eye pain is never normal. It is also important to address any of these issues as soon as possible to prevent any permanent damage to the eye tissues which may affect your vision.
Some sudden symptoms that may not be painful but are still cause for concern are any flashes of light, floating spots in your vision, newly distorted vision (like wavy or "watery") or any partial or full loss of vision in either eye. These are symptoms of potentially very serious conditions that may lead to blindness, like a retinal tear, or even more severe complications like a stroke in the blood vessels of the eye.
In case of an eye injury, cut or trauma, gently apply a clean cold compress to the eye to reduce swelling and help stop the bleeding. Do not, however, apply pressure to control bleeding. If blood is pooling in the eye, cover both eyes with a clean cloth or sterile dressing. And call your optometrist immediately.
In case of eye injury be sure NOT to:
rub or apply pressure to your eye
try to remove foreign objects that are stuck in any part of your eye
use tweezers or any other tools in your eye (cotton swabs can be used, but only on the eyelid)
put medications or ointments in the eye
As for contact lenses wearers, attempting to remove your contacts can make the injury worse. The only exceptions to this rule are in situations where there is a chemical injury and the lenses didn’t flush out with water, or where immediate medical help cannot be received.
Eye injuries can happen anywhere. Accidents can happen during high-risk activities, but also in places where you least expect them. There are things that can be done to decrease the risk of eye injuries, including wearing protective eyewear when using power tools or engaging in high-risk sporting events, following the directions carefully when working with chemicals or cleaning supplies, keeping scissors, knives, and other sharp instruments away from young children, and keeping a distance from amateur fireworks.
To decrease the chances of developing permanent eye damage, immediate medical evaluation is necessary in the event of an eye injury.
Scratches and Foreign bodies: We are at the beach! A common emergency walk-in we see are patients, often children who get sand in their eyes. Most of the time, the sand can be washed out with clean water (sometimes tears do the trick). Sometimes, when rubbing the eyes, it can cause the sand to scratch the eye. This needs immediate treatment to bring relief and promote fast healing to the surface of the eye. It is also not uncommon for people who work in welding or construction, and other occupations or hobbies to get a small piece of debris in their eye that must be removed by an optometrist. It is important to always wear safety eyewear during high-risk activity, and sunglasses can help protect the eyes while at the beach or doing yard work.
Inflammation and Ulcers: There are myriad types of inflammation that can affect the eye, and most often it is painful. Inflammation can accompany an infection, and can occur alongside symptoms like mucus, itching, burning or other irritation. Blepharitis is a type of inflammation of the oil glands in the eyelids, and although it may not be emergent, it can lead to issues like dry eye, or painful styes that require an office visit to treat. Various parts of the eye like the iris, and the sclera can also suffer from a painful flare up of inflammation that requires immediate treatment for pain relief. It is also possible to get an ulcer on the surface of the eye. This is most common with contact lens wearers that overwear their contacts. Corneal ulcers are incredibly painful. It is important to always follow your optometrist's contact lens wear and care instructions and never sleep in your contacts unless they are specifically approved for that purpose.
Burns and Chemical Burns: Burns to the eye most commonly occur around the 4th of July and are a result of fireworks. It is important to wear protective eyewear when around sparks (welders) or fireworks. A chemical injury to the eye can be caused by a work-related accident, common household products such as cleaning solutions, garden chemicals, solvents, or other types of chemicals. Fumes and aerosols can also cause chemical burns. With acid burns, the haze on the cornea often clears and there is a good chance of recovery. However, alkaline substances such as lime, lye, drain cleaners, and sodium hydroxide found in refrigeration equipment may cause permanent damage to the cornea. It is important to flush out the eye with substantial amounts of clean water or salt water (saline).