Many people don’t give their eyes much thought until an eye emergency happens. Chances are, it happens on a holiday weekend at midnight when all doctors’ offices are already closed. What should you do and can it wait until Monday morning?
Below are the most common emergent symptoms that you need to pay attention to.
Eye Pain: If you have extreme pain that burns, stings and causes your eyes to water, it’s usually from a foreign object or a corneal abrasion. If rinsing the eyes out with artificial tears or contact lens solutions doesn’t help and the pain is just as intense after 20 minutes, you need to be seen by an eye doctor. Try to keep your eye closed until then.
Boring eye pain with headache, nausea, blurry vision: If you are experiencing a boring pain in one eye with a severe headache, haloes around lights, foggy or steamy vision, and/or nausea, you need to be seen immediately. You may be experiencing a spike in the intraocular pressure of your eye caused by a disease called narrow angle glaucoma.
Change in vision: If you notice a drastic change in your vision such as a shower of floaters or flashes of lights followed by a curtain or veil over one area of your vision, you may be experiencing a retinal tear or detachment and need to be seen. If your vision change is a gradual dimming of vision that doesn’t improve, you may be experiencing a central retinal artery occlusion where a large clot blocks the flow of blood to the eye resulting in gradual vision loss. This may be reversible within a narrow window of a few hours, so it is important to find adequate treatment immediately.
Chemical injury to the eye: If you are splashed in the eyes with a chemical, immediately rinse them out with saline solution (contact lens solutions are okay), artificial tears, or tap or bottled water. If possible, rinse them for 15 minutes with a steady stream of water. Do not use high speeds of water to avoid further injury. If your vision is reduced or you still experience extreme pain after 15 minutes of rinsing, you should be seen by an eyecare physician. Depending on the chemical you are exposed to, the eye may be at risk for further damage.
Physical injury to the eye: If you have been hit in the eye or head, always check your vision and compare the vision in each eye. If one eye is uncharacteristically more blurry than the other, you should be checked to make sure the structures in the eye are intact. If you experience unbearable pain that does not improve within five minutes, you should see your eye doctor immediately.
If you are a contact lens wearer and are experiencing pain with and without contact lenses plus a reduction in vision, you also need to check in with your eye doctor. This is especially important if you have been exposed to water such as oceans, lakes, and water parks which can cause a severe eye infection resulting in vision loss.
The more important question is, “Do you have someone you can call in emergencies?” Emergency rooms see a good deal of patients for ocular emergencies. However, some of the above scenarios require a retinal or corneal specialist, which may be more difficult to find in a timely manner. In emergencies, call your optometrist first. They may have an on-call line or emergency services available. If they are not available to see you or believe you need the services of a specialist, they may be able to find one more quickly for you than the emergency room can.