What is an Eye Emergency?
Changes in vision are frightening. While some visual issues can be easily corrected with new glasses or contact lenses, other vision changes may require immediate medical attention. Educating yourself about a serious eye emergency is the first step in preventing vision loss.
You may be wondering how to differentiate between symptoms that require immediate medical attention and those that can wait a few days. Fortunately, true eye emergencies are rare, but it is crucial to recognize when immediate treatment is necessary.
Seek immediate medical attention (as in right this minute) for any of the following:
- Eye injuries: Trauma to the eye, an eye emergency such as a penetrating injury or blunt force trauma, can cause bleeding, swelling, and other serious problems.
- Chemical burns: Exposure to chemicals such as bleach or other household cleaning products can cause serious damage to the eyes and require immediate treatment.
- Sudden and persistent vision loss, which may indicate central retinal artery occlusion. If this occurs, you have a 30-45 minute window in which your doctor may be able to perform a procedure to increase blood flow.
What warrants a same-day doctor visit?
Apart from emergencies, some symptoms may wait a few days, while others require same-day medical attention. How do you tell the difference? Any sudden changes in your vision, such as distortion, light sensitivity, double vision, ability to distinguish color, fever, or extreme pain of any kind, warrant a same-day doctor visit. These issues could be signs of:
- Age-related macular degeneration, which can blur central vision while your peripheral vision remains intact.
- Retinal detachment, which occurs when the retina lifts away from the back of the eye and causes sudden flashing or floaters, a shadow in your peripheral vision, or a “gray curtain” blocking part of your field of vision.
- Iritis, which is inflammation of the iris, the colored part of your eye, and is usually accompanied by pain, redness, light sensitivity, or blurred vision.
- Additionally, if you experience any post-operative discomfort, you should notify your doctor immediately.
Call your eye doctor today and schedule an appointment within the next few days if you have:
Any of these symptoms, which are important but not urgent:
- Double vision that goes away if you cover one eye or if you have a history of double vision. While this can be alarming, it’s usually due to a small muscle imbalance that has been present for a long time. If you haven’t been diagnosed with this before, make an appointment for an eye exam at your earliest convenience.
- A bright red eye without pain or loss of vision. Although this can be a scary sight when you look in the mirror, it’s usually a broken blood vessel that will resolve on its own. Usually an appointment isn’t necessary, but if you are experiencing any pain or simply need some peace of mind, do call your doctor to schedule a visit.
- Floaters or flashers without loss of vision. These are little pieces of debris that are floating around in the gel part of your eye. They are normal and not problematic on their own. However, if you experience a sudden shower of floaters with flashes of light and/or loss of vision, see your doctor in the next few days.
- Decrease/loss of vision that has persisted more than two days. Although not an emergency, you should still make an appointment to determine the cause.
- General aching pain is not a symptom of any known eye emergency. If you’re concerned about its origin and haven’t had a recent eye exam, schedule one at your earliest convenience.
- Distorted vision that has persisted more than two weeks, which is often due to an issue with your retina. Unfortunately, if you didn’t seek treatment at the time of onset, this may be permanent. Schedule a dilated eye exam for confirmation.
- A bump on the eyelid that is not painful or only moderately painful. These are usually caused from a bacterial infection or a clogged oil gland. You can start your treatment at home by putting a hot compress on the bump several times a day. If the bump continues to grow or cause pain, make an appointment with your doctor as you may need an antibiotic.
In summary, urgent vision problems require attention within a few days or weeks, but do not pose an immediate threat to your vision or overall health. Emergent vision problems, on the other hand, are an eye emergency that requires immediate attention as they can cause permanent vision loss or threaten your overall health. It’s important to understand the difference between these two types of problems and seek medical attention accordingly.
Remember, your eyes are precious tools that deserve attention and care. At Cascadia Eye, we encourage our patients to take proactive steps to maintain their eye health.
By guest blogger Haylee Saldivar
Contact Cascadia Eye
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