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Eye emergencies range from cuts and scratches on the eye to medical conditions causing sudden pain and loss of vision. If you have an eye emergency, seeking emergency eyecare is essential for the health of your eyes and vision. (Learn More)
Knowing the symptoms of an eye emergency can help you know when to seek medical attention. Symptoms of eye emergencies include sudden changes in vision, eye pain and swelling, and headache with nausea or vomiting, among others. (Learn More)
Injuries that cause blunt trauma to the eye, objects that have punctured the eyeball or eyelid, and anything stuck in the eye warrant an immediate trip to the emergency room. (Learn More)
Some eye emergencies are better treated by an ophthalmologist. Eye emergencies related to a retinal tear, acute glaucoma, or suspected globe injuries can be better assessed and treated by an ophthalmologist who is able to perform a comprehensive eye exam. (Learn More)
If you are in the midst of an eye injury, it can be hard to determine where to seek medical help. If you can’t decide where to go, call your physician or optometrist for advice on your symptoms and the most appropriate place to get treated. (Learn More)
An eye emergency occurs any time the health of the eye and vision are threatened. The eye is easily injured, and any conditions that are left untreated can lead to loss of vision. Problems that occur in the eye or eyelid, as well as symptoms of pain or vision loss, warrant immediate medical attention.
There are many different types of eye emergencies that call for medical care, either from an ophthalmologist or at an emergency room, when extremely urgent. Types of eye emergencies include:
- Cuts or scratches on the eye.
- Objects in the eye.
- Burns to the eye.
- Chemical exposure.
- Trauma or blunt injury to the eye.
Depending on the extent of the eye injury, you may be able to address the issue at home and heal on your own, or you may need to seek medical attention right away. If you or someone you are with experiences an eye emergency, stay calm and prevent any further damage to the eye. Seek medical care as soon as you are able.
Symptoms of an Eye Emergency
If you experience injury to the eye, be aware of dangerous symptoms. Monitoring these can guide your decision for what kind of medical attention you seek. Whether you have a foreign object in your eye or experienced a chemical splash, observing the severity of symptoms is important.
Symptoms of an eye injury include:
- Sudden vision loss.
- Sudden double vision in both eyes.
- Headache with eye pressure.
- Headache with nausea and/or vomiting.
- Swelling around the eyes.
- Sudden onset of flashes of light.
- Sudden onset of floaters.
- Bleeding or discharge from the eye.
- Bruising and pain.
- Itchy eyes.
- Pupils of different sizes.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Stinging or burning sensation in the eyes.
Sudden and drastic changes in your vision constitute an eye emergency. It is important not to ignore these symptoms. They could be the result of injury to the eye or an underlying eye condition that calls for treatment right away.
When to Go to the Emergency Room
If you experience a severe injury to the eye, it is important to seek medical help promptly. Delaying medical care can threaten your vision and chances of making a full recovery.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends seeking medical attention right away in the following situations:
An object that is stuck or imbedded in the eyeIf an object is stuck in your eye, leave it in place. Don’t put pressure on the object or try to remove it on your own. Cover both eyes to prevent eye movement and put a covering, such as a paper cup, over the object if it is large in order to avoid pressing on it. Go straight to an emergency room.
Chemicals in the eyesIf chemicals get in the eyes, such as industrial products at work or household cleaning products, flush out the eyes right away. Flush them with cool tap water or saline solution for at least 15 minutes. After thoroughly flushing the eyes, get medical attention right away.
Cuts, scratches, or blows to the eyeInjuries to the eye that cause bleeding and swelling should be immediately addressed with a cold, clean compress. Do not apply pressure to the eye in an effort to stop any bleeding. If blood is collecting in the eye, cover both eyes with a clean cloth. Go to an emergency room right away.
Cut on the eyelidTreat a cut on the eyelid by gently washing it, and applying a clean, dry cloth until the bleeding stops. It is important not to press on the eyeball in case the cut goes all the way through to the eyeball. Cover the eyelid with a clean dressing and cold compress to reduce swelling. Follow up with professional medical care.
All physicians are trained to do standard eye exams. Emergency room doctors will be able to assess the eye injury and the best immediate course of action. They can provide emergency care that will then likely be followed by care from an ophthalmologist who can do a more detailed eye exam and follow-up treatment planning.
Issues That Can Be Treated by an Ophthalmologist
While many blunt injuries to the eye often warrant treatment in an emergency room, other eye injuries are better treated by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. There are number of eye emergencies that can only be treated by a trained eye doctor.
Eye emergencies that should be treated by an ophthalmologist include:
- Retinal tear or detachment.
- Suspected globe laceration or rupture.
- Acute glaucoma.
- Flashing lights and floaters.
- Retinal artery/vein occlusion.
Ophthalmologists are also able to treat chemical eye injuries as well as injuries caused by something mechanical entering the eye.
The benefit of seeing an ophthalmologist for treatment of an eye emergency is that they can conduct an eye evaluation to assess the extent of the damage. They can examine your vision, eye movement, the physical structure of the eye, and the pressure within your eye. All of this information helps them determine the necessary and best treatment approach.
During the consultation, we will ask you about your eye health history and your medications, and perform some tests. You will then be examined by the surgeon who will discuss your treatment options. Your personal Patient Counselor will help you throughout the process.
Your Counselor can review payment options and schedule you for surgery and related appointments, such as pre- and post-operative exams. Prior to your procedure you will have a dilated eye exam, and you should discontinue wearing your contact lenses and begin taking eye drops as instructed.
Plan to be at the center for two to three hours the day of your procedure. ICL eye surgery is a fairly brief outpatient procedure. Your surgeon dilates your eyes, and gives you a local anesthetic to numb the area. A tiny incision is made, and the clear lens is slipped between your iris and your eye’s natural lens. The day of your procedure should be a day of rest.
Your Patient Counselor will give you detailed post-operative instructions and eye drop regimen for your recovery. After ICL surgery, you’ll need several follow-ups with your eye doctor. Visual recovery is rapid, and you can expect noticeable improvement within a day or two. Most patients are generally able to return to their normal activities within two or three days following their procedure.
How to Know Where to Go
Following an eye injury, it can be difficult to know where to go for medical care. Both optometrists and emergency room doctors can treat eye emergencies.
To help you decide where to seek medical attention, the U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends seeking emergency medical care if:
- Something has penetrated the eyeball.
- Any chemicals got into the eye.
- The eye is red and painful.
- Nausea or headache occur alongside eye pain.
- There is a sudden change in vision.
- There is uncontrollable bleeding.
If you are still unsure about where to seek emergency eyecare, call your doctor or optometrist for advice. If you are calling after hours, there will be a doctor on call who can discuss the symptoms related to the eye emergency with you and make an informed referral.
The important thing is to seek emergency eyecare as quickly as you can. Prompt treatment of eye emergencies is the best way to prevent unnecessary vision loss and ensure a full recovery.
After Hours Emergency Eye Care. University of Rochester Medical Center.
Common Eye Injuries. (October 2013). American Family Physician.
Eye Emergencies. (May 2019). MedlinePlus.
Eye Emergencies. (August 2017). JAMA Network.