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What is Considered an Eye Care Emergency?

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Outside of an emergency room, view of a sign in red letters that spells "emergency"

Your eyes and vision are precious, but accidents can happen. Some eye injuries can be classified as minor and treated at home, while others require immediate medical intervention. Understanding which eye injuries require emergency eye care is crucial to preserving your long-term vision.

Chemical injuries, foreign objects in your eye, corneal abrasions, black eyes or trauma, and acute angle glaucoma can all be considered eye emergencies that require prompt care.

Symptoms of Eye Emergencies

When you develop signs of eye problems, it’s normal to wonder if it’s considered an emergency. You don’t want to seek emergency care for a minor issue, but you also can’t ignore symptoms that are harmful long-term.

In general, you should seek emergency care if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Acute vision loss
  • Sudden inflammation
  • Asymmetrical pupil sizes
  • One eye isn’t moving with the other
  • One eye is bulging outward
  • Acute eye pain
  • Decreased vision
  • Bruising around the eye
  • Blood in the eye
  • New or severe headaches or vertigo

These symptoms can point to several problems, so it’s best to see a professional for an assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

Eye Emergencies

Chemical Injuries

Don’t wait to seek medical attention if you have a chemical substance in your eye. Chemical substances can cause various eye injuries, from mild irritation to severe burns. The type and severity of the injury can depend on the substance, so it’s vital to tell your doctor exactly what you have in your eyes for proper treatment.

Alkaline solutions like drain cleaner, lye, or sodium hydroxide can cause permanent damage to the cornea. If you get any chemicals in your eyes, wash your hands thoroughly and flush your eyes with clean, cool water. If possible, keep flushing your eyes while on your way to the emergency room.

Foreign Objects in Your Eye

Small objects like tiny bits of glass, wood, metal, or plastic can be dangerous to the eye. Those particles can get underneath the eyelid and become embedded on the eye’s surface or penetrate it. It’s crucial that you don’t rub the affected eye—you can cause an abrasion that leads to vision loss.

Some larger objects, like construction nails or debris, can cause significant eye injury. In this situation, immobilize the eye, don’t apply pressure, don’t touch it, and don’t try to remove it—seek emergency medical attention immediately to avoid permanent damage.

A woman holding her right hand over her eye due to eye pain

Cuts & Scratches

If you’ve sustained a cut, scratch, or corneal abrasion, it’s important to seek immediate medical help, regardless of how small or large the injury might seem. A cut or scratch can allow bacteria to enter your eye, causing an infection.

If pain, sensitivity to light, or unusual discharge accompany the injury, these symptoms may indicate that the damage is severe and that immediate attention is warranted.

A Black Eye

A black eye is an injury that occurs when something hard hits your eye. In most cases, there’s no immediate impact on vision, but swelling and bruising can develop on the eyelids and around the eye. A black eye can also be a sign of more severe damage, such as an orbital fracture, which can merit prompt attention, so it’s never a bad idea to speak to your doctor about a black eye.

Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma

Acute angle-closure glaucoma is a rare but severe condition you shouldn’t ignore. It can develop suddenly and with little warning, causing symptoms like:

  • Severe eye pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Bright halos
  • Eye redness, tenderness, and hardness
  • Nausea and vomiting

These symptoms are signs of a potential emergency, so you should seek eye care immediately if you develop this cluster of symptoms.

How to Prevent Eye Emergencies

Some eye emergencies are caused by accidents and bad luck, but others are preventable, and you can reduce your risk by implementing good habits, including the following:

  • Wear protective eyewear for hazardous work or hobbies and sports
  • Wear sunglasses when you’re outdoors
  • Use chemicals and cleaning agents with caution
  • Keep sharp objects away from children
  • Teach your child to use sharp objects safely and under supervision
  • Keep your child away from projectile toys
  • Be cautious when cooking with high-splatter oils and grease

Take Eye Emergencies Seriously

When it concerns your eyes, you don’t want to take any chances. Contact Eye Effects or visit us when there’s something wrong with your eyes or vision. 

If unavailable, head to your nearest emergency room for immediate care and contact us for follow-up care.

Written by Eye Effects

We’ve been providing stellar eye care to our communities in Calgary and Didsbury for over 25 years. At Eye Effects, we aim to be a premier place for individuals of all ages and walks of life to access professional vision care and advanced technology. From comprehensive exams to trendy frames and lenses, we’re sure we have something for all eyes!
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