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What Eye Issues Need Emergency Care?

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You should receive a medical eye exam every year, but an emergency may lead to a surprise trip to your optometrist’s office. Accidents happen, but what is an eye emergency, and how do you know you need immediate care? 

Continue reading to learn more about some of the eye issues that require emergency care, such as conjunctivitis, glaucoma, and more. 

What is an Eye Emergency? 

There are many eye conditions and diseases you can develop, but what constitutes an emergency? 

An eye emergency is the sudden appearance of symptoms or visible trauma that can affect your vision. Emergencies require immediate care; many conditions can significantly affect your vision if left untreated. 

Common Signs of an Eye Emergency

You can never expect an emergency, but you can learn the common signs you may need a timely visit to your optometrist. There are several symptoms related to eye emergencies, and you should seek immediate medical attention if you experience

  • Sudden vision loss
  • Sudden changes in vision 
  • An abrupt increase in floaters 
  • Flashes of light
  • Stringy, sticky, or yellow-looking discharge 
  • Sudden onset of redness
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Excessive itching 
  • Eye injury
  • Swelling 

Understanding the symptoms of an eye emergency can help protect your vision. 

What Eye Issues Require Emergency Care? 

There are many different eye emergencies, but some are more common than others. Let’s look at some of the most common emergencies, including: 

  • Chemical contact or injury
  • Foreign objects
  • Conjunctivitis 
  • Flashes & floaters
  • Acute angle-closure glaucoma 
  • Wet age-related macular degeneration 

Chemical Contact or Injury

Your eyes are delicate, and unwanted materials can irritate them. Chemical contact from solids, liquids, powders, or aerosols can significantly damage your eyes. A household cleaning spill may seem insignificant, but exposure to your eyes can harm your vision and long-term eye health. 

Your eyes can sustain damage within 5 minutes of exposure, so you must rinse your eyes immediately. Find a clean source of lukewarm water to flush your eyes for 15 to 20 minutes. Your eyes may feel better after a few moments of flushing, but remove as much chemical residue as possible. 

After you’ve rinsed your eyes for the appropriate amount of time, immediately contact your medical optometrist for an evaluation. 

Young girl with patched eye after foreign object was in eye

Foreign Object in the Eye

Foreign objects can enter your eye from time to time, such as loose eyelashes, dust, metallic foreign bodies, makeup, or dirt. It’s tempting to try and remove something in your eye but use caution. Avoid rubbing your eyes or using tweezers or another tool; this interference can damage your eye further. 

You can try flushing the object out with water: 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before touching your eye
  • Locate the foreign object in the mirror
  • Flush your eye with water & blink several times to loosen the object
  • Wipe & dry your eye with a clean source

Seek emergent care for a foreign body. Metallic or plant-based objects can lead to complications, such as an infection. 

Conjunctivitis 

Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is the inflammation or infection of the membrane lining your eyelid (the conjunctiva). There are several forms of pink eye, including: 

  • Viral conjunctivitis: This form of pink eye develops when contagious viruses enter the eye, such as the common cold
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: This form of pink eye occurs when bacteria enters the eye
  • Allergic conjunctivitis: This form of pink eye develops when allergens enter the eye, leading to an allergic reaction

Viral and bacterial forms of conjunctivitis are extremely contagious. Visit your medical optometrist, who can determine the underlying cause of your pink eye symptoms. 

Flashes & Floaters 

Flashes and floaters occur due to the natural shrinking of the gel-like fluid in your eye. These floaters can look like squiggly lines or spots, while flashes are bright spots in your vision. 

New onset of flashes and or floaters are considered an eye emergency, and prompt examination can help determine the cause of symptoms. Large clusters of flashes or floaters may be a sign of a torn or detached retina, which can permanently affect your vision. 

Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma 

Glaucoma has many different forms, but some variations can rapidly affect your vision. Acute angle-closure glaucoma causes the space between the iris and the lens to suddenly close. This closure leads to a sudden increase in your eye pressure and potential vision loss. 

Acute angle-closure glaucoma has several symptoms. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience: 

  • Hazy or blurred vision 
  • Severe eye & head pain 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Sudden vision loss

Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration 

Wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition where the blood vessels within your retina become damaged over time. These vessels can leak fluid into the macula, causing your body to develop new, weaker blood vessels to replace the damaged ones. These abnormal blood vessels can lead to further leakage and obstruction of your central vision. 

Seek medical attention if

  • You experience changes in your central vision 
  • You can’t see colors or notice fine details 

Your Optometrist is Here to Help

Emergencies can happen, but your medical optometrist can help protect your vision. Whether it’s something in your eye or an infection, you can receive the care you need. 

If you’re having symptoms of an eye emergency, visit your optometrist as soon as possible

Written by Dr. Leslie E. O’Dell

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