It’s not uncommon for patients to shrug off eye symptoms, thinking that it’s only a minor issue that will quickly go away. However, certain conditions warrant immediate medical attention.
Unfortunately, without a medical background, it can be hard to tell whether your symptoms are a cause for concern. To help guide you, Clearfinity Eyecare Optometrist, your local eye doctor, has compiled a quick primer on what usually constitutes an eye emergency:
Emergencies That Require Immediate Medical Attention
These are the most common eye emergencies that require medical attention:
Eye injury or accidents – In certain cases, foreign particles or objects can enter and damage the eyes, causing swelling, redness, light sensitivity, double vision or pain. Eye injuries, no matter how minor they may seem, should be treated as soon as possible. That’s because if treatment is given too late, the chance of partial or permanent vision loss significantly increases.
What to do right after suffering eye injury? If there’s eye trauma, lightly hold a cold compress over your eyes without applying pressure. The cold compress should help relieve pain and reduce swelling.
What not to do if you suffered injury: If one of your eyes or eyelids was cut or punctured by a foreign object, do not wash your eyes or try to remove the foreign object. You should also avoid putting ointment and medications in your eye or taking out your contact lenses. Instead, cover your eyes with a make-shift shield, such as the bottom half of a paper cup, to protect it from foreign particles. The best way to prevent complications from eye trauma is to see an eye doctor as soon as possible.
Chemical burns – A patient can suffer chemical burns in their eyes if chemicals were accidentally splashed across their face or if the patient rubs their eyes after handling chemicals. (Gaseous chemicals such as aerosols and fumes can cause chemical burns as well). The usual symptoms include a stinging or burning sensation, pain, eye irritation, swollen eyelids and blurry vision.
The potential for injury ultimately depends on the degree of exposure to the chemical and the type of chemical itself. For instance, the prognosis for eye damage from acid is usually optimistic if early treatment is given. Eye damage stemming from exposure to alkaline products like drain cleaners, sodium hydroxide, lye, or lime on the other hand, is harder to treat. What to do after suffering a chemical burn? Wash your hands to prevent any more chemicals from accidentally getting into your eyes. Do not attempt to counteract the chemical with another chemical or substance. Hold your eyelid open and flush out the affected eye with saline solution or water (the former is preferable). If the water failed to remove the contact lenses, try to take them off yourself. Don’t reuse the discarded lenses, as there might still be trace amounts of the chemical on them. You should replace the discarded ones with new contact lenses. It’s best if you can continue to flush the affected eye with water while travelling to the hospital or waiting for an ambulance.
Foreign particles stuck in your eye
What to do if small foreign particles got into your eye? Even tiny amounts of dust and sand are enough to cause eye irritation. Avoid rubbing your eyes. See if blinking a few times gets rid of the small foreign particles—tears can wash away the small foreign particles. If your eyes are not producing enough tears, you can also use artificial tear eye drops. If it’s still having no effect, wash your eyes with water.
What to do if large foreign objects like glass and metal got into or punctured your eyes? If the chemical or other foreign particles were not completely washed off, wrap the affected eye with a bandage while keeping it closed and go see an eye doctor immediately.
- Abrupt changes in your vision – For most patients, it’s not until they undergo an eye exam for new eyeglasses that they notice subtle vision changes. Fortunately, in most cases, patients only need a higher prescription. If, however, you notice abrupt changes in your vision, like blind spots or blurry vision, don’t wait for your next appointment—see your eye doctor right away. Sudden changes in vision may be the result of retinal or corneal defects that might lead to vision less if they’re not treated immediately.
- Red, irritated eyes with discharge – Red, irritated eyes are a symptom of several relatively common eye conditions. If, however, red eyes are accompanied by discharge, the condition is most likely due to an infectious bacterial infection, which requires antibiotics.
- Differences in the size of your pupils – Different-size pupils are a symptom of several serious conditions such as head trauma, a stroke or a brain tumor.
- Bulging eyes – Several maladies can cause a patient’s eyeballs to bulge. These include bacterial infections, inflammation and certain thyroid conditions. The only way to determine the exact cause of the condition is to see an eye doctor.
The Warning Signs
In general, the aforementioned conditions always warrant a trip to the emergency room. Patients should also be aware of symptoms that can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. The American Optometric Association recommends patients seek medical attention should they experience any of the following symptoms:
- Stinging or burning sensation in the eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Double vision
- One eye isn’t moving normally
- Bleeding around the eyes
- Blood in the conjunctiva (the white part of the eye)
- Eye discharge
- Severe headaches
Glaucoma and the Importance of Routine Eye Exams and Early Treatment
Remember: the earlier you can get treatment for an eye condition, the better. The problem is that not all conditions manifest symptoms right away. Glaucoma is one such condition. There are several types of glaucoma, all of which involve damage to the optic nerve stemming from increased eye pressure.
The problem with glaucoma is that its progression is gradual. Only half of the people currently living with glaucoma are aware of it. That’s because by the time patients start to notice changes in their vision, the condition has already progressed to an advanced stage.
Your risk of glaucoma increases as you age. Those aged 60 and above are six times more likely to develop the condition. The best way to minimize complications from conditions such as glaucoma and reduce the risk of future eye emergencies stemming from underlying eye conditions is to undergo routine eye exams.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends those aged 55 to 64 undergo a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years. Of course, age is just one of several risk factors. Another big one is having a family history of glaucoma. Not to worry though; an eye doctor can help formulate a plan to reduce your risk factors.
Eye Care Tips: Preventing Eye Injuries
Eye injuries can increase your risk for glaucoma, as eye trauma can damage your eyes’ drainage systems. Here are some of the ways you can protect your eyes:
- Always wear the appropriate eyewear for the activity you’re participating in. Wear your eyeglasses for reading and sports or safety goggles when playing sports or handling power tools. In general, you should always be careful when you’re exposed to projectiles, including balls and frisbees.
- Read the labels on cleaning solutions and follow them carefully. Remember: fumes can also cause chemical eye burns.
- Be careful when handling grease or oil—splattering oil can get into your eyes.
- Lastly, if you have any concerns with your vision or your eyeglasses and contact lenses, don’t hesitate to consult an eye doctor.