Emergency eyecare: What is the 411 on the 911 of our eyes?

As the urgent care optometrist for our practice for over 20 years, I have come across and treated many eye related injuries. Many of these urgent care visits are the result of accidents involving common household items and every day activities. My fellow bloggers, Dr. Lisa Weiss, Dr. David Ardaya and I have written about how to protect your eyes and your children’s eyes during work or play in the June 4, June 11, and July 7 issues of the COA Blogs.

Photo courtesy of Pekka Nikrus on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Pekka Nikrus on Flickr

Here, I highlight notable cases that I evaluated and treated, in hopes that you can safeguard yourself from these types of injuries. Through the eyes of an ER eye doctor you might have seen:

  • A mother and daughter working on a school project that required gluing things together. Out comes the tube of crazy glue. As the mother squeezes the initial droplet of the crazy glue, it inadvertently squirts backwards into her own eye and eyelashes subsequently sealing her eye shut.
  • A woman busy readying herself for work. She was curling her hair with a hot curling iron as she did every morning. On that particular day as she was curling her hair, her hand slipped and the curling iron burned her eye and upper eyelid.
  • A brother sitting across the table from his sister at dinner. The brother was shaking hot sauce out of a bottle to spice up his tacos. As he tapped the bottle vigorously, the hot sauce jetted all the way across the table into his sister’s eye causing an immediate chemical burn.
  • A dad carrying his child in his arms. As the child was having a meltdown and flinging his hands around, the child’s sharp fingernail scraps the front of the dad’s eye.
  •  A woman breaks a glass coffee carafe on the kitchen counter. A piece of the glass unknowingly falls into the garbage disposal. When the garbage disposal was turned on the broken piece of glass flies into the woman’s eye and remains permanently lodged in there.
  • A long time contact lens wearer rushing in the morning. She went to refresh her contact lenses with what she thought was saline solution. Instead, she reached for a bottle of contact lens cleaner. Upon applying her contact lens, she caused a chemical toxicity to her eye.
  • A housekeeper bending down to pick up something off the floor, hits her eye on the corner of the table. She gets a black eye and sees flashes of light.

Now that you know that every day activities inside your home might cause you harm, it’s time to learn about what measures you need to take to safeguard yourself. Wear protective eyewear when working with chemicals or sharp objects. Slow down. Don’t rush through a task. If an irritating substance gets into your eyes, immediately flush your eyes out for at least 20 minutes before you call your eye doctor for further assistance. If a sharp object abrades or penetrates your eye, it’s best to cover your eye with some sort of shield or protective shell and go see your eye doctor ASAP. These are the things you, as a patient, need to do to help us get a jumpstart on treating the injury and stabilizing the condition … until you are able to get to the eye doctor’s office.


~ Judy Tong, O.D., F.A.A.O.
California Optometric Association

Why 20/20 isn’t perfect-What is visual acuity?

Courtesy of riekhavoc (caughtup?) on Flickr

Courtesy of riekhavoc (caughtup?) on Flickr

Measuring normal vision

When patients come to see me, I need to have a way to compare how they see in relation to someone with normal vision.  So, like most eye doctors, I use a number system called Snellen visual acuity.  This measure of the clarity of vision uses black letters on a white background.  If you have ever had an eye examination, it is when the doctor asks you to read the letters on the chart that starts with a big “E”.  The letters are called optotypes and they have a very specific design that takes into account the size of the lines and the space between them.  While there are other types of visual acuity measurements, this is the most common.

20/20 isn’t perfect

The measure most people want to achieve with Snellen visual acuity is 20/20 vision.  While 20/20 is pretty darn good vision, in reality, 20/20 is not exceptional vision so much as it is more like the lowest possible visual acuity a person can have and be considered normal.  In fact, many people have the potential to see somewhere between 20/16 and 20/12 which means that they see even better than 20/20!

Paul B. (Halifax)

Paul B. (Halifax)

What do the numbers mean?

People also ask me to explain what the numbers mean.  As an example, take a person with 20/40 vision.  A person with 20/40 is at a disadvantage compared to a person with normal, 20/20 vision.  In fact, a person with 20/40 vision would have to stand 20 feet away from something that a person with normal vision can stand 40 feet away from and still see.

A number of factors like eye disease, the eye’s length and curvature, and the quality of connection between the eye and the processing centers in the brain come together to determine visual acuity.  Some factors, like nearsightedness, come with easy solutions like glasses.  Others, like macular degeneration, are much more complex and simple solutions like glasses only offer minimal improvement.  If a patient has very poor visual acuity, they may need magnifiers and telescopic lenses to help.

So,  the next time you go to the optometrist, give the 20/15 line a shot.  Good luck!

~David Ardaya, OD
California Optometric Association