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When Is Eye Pain an Emergency?

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The entrance of an emergency room

It’s difficult to think of anything else when your eyes are in pain. The eyes are complex and delicate organs that are easily damaged, it can be a pretty alarming experience when they start to hurt.

Eye pain can be caused by anything from dirt in your eye to retinal damage so it’s difficult to know when it becomes an emergency. This is why it’s important to make visiting your optometrist for an eye exam one of the first steps you make when you experience vision issues.

Let’s take a closer look at the various types of eye emergencies and when your eye pain requires an urgent visit to your eye doctor or emergency clinic.

Causes of Eye Pain

Always seek medical attention if you experience pain, redness, or swelling in your eyes. Without proper care, eye damage can result in a partial loss of vision or even permanent blindness.

Some of the most common causes of eye pain are as follows:

Anytime you have a foreign object or chemicals in your eye, or if an accident or burn impacts your eye area, you are experiencing an eye emergency. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including: 

  • Eye burning or stinging
  • Bruising around the eye
  • Blood in the white part of the eye
  • Pupils that differ in size
  • One eye is not moving like the other
  • One eye is sticking out or bulging
  • Loss of vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Severe itching
A woman rubs her left eye due to eye pain and strain

Common Eye Emergencies

The following are some of the most common eye pains and emergency situations. If you have an eye emergency, please contact our office right away.

Foreign Objects

A foreign object in your eye can cause harm or impair your vision. Larger objects, such as glass or metal, will cause damage to your eyes, but even sand or dust can irritate your eyes and cause further damage, such as a corneal abrasion.

The majority of irritants that enter your eye can be easily removed with your body’s natural tears or by flushing. However, you shouldn’t gamble with your vision. If flushing doesn’t work, or you suspect it didn’t work, seek immediate medical attention.

No matter how tempting it is, don’t rub your eyes. This can cause scratching on the surface of your eyes, causing further irritation and pain.

Corneal Abrasions

The cornea is the clear front portion of the eye that’s visible when your eyelids are open. Corneal abrasions are cuts and scratches on the surface of the eye. They can cause infections and corneal ulcers if left untreated.

If you have a cut or scratch on your eyeball or eyelid, you should seek immediate medical attention. While you wait for medical attention, you may apply a loose bandage, but avoid applying pressure.

Chemical Eye Injuries

Cleaning supplies, garden chemicals, aerosols, fumes, or industrial chemicals that enter your eyes can cause chemical burns.

If you get acid in your eye, early treatment usually results in a positive outcome. Alkaline products, such as drain cleaners, sodium hydroxide, lye, or lime, on the other hand, can permanently damage your cornea.

If you come into contact with a chemical, make sure your hands are clean, especially of any substances that got into your eyes and flush thoroughly with clean, cool water.

Blood in the Eye

The medical term for eye bleeding is hyphema, this happens when blood accumulates behind your cornea. Hyphema is usually caused when you get hit by something in the eye.

Sports injuries are the leading cause of hyphema. Most people recover from it within a few days with only at-home care.

Although surgery is rarely required, severe hyphema can lead to blindness in the affected eye. Consult your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room as soon as you notice any eye bleeding.

Retinal Damage

Because retinal tears are often painless, it is critical to recognize the symptoms. Physical trauma or other eye diseases can cause retinal damage. Symptoms of retinal tears include:

  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Sudden flashes
  • Specks floating across the field of vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Shadows over your field of vision

 If you have these symptoms, seek emergency eye care.

What to Do If You Think You Have an Eye Emergency

Even if your eye pain is manageable and doesn’t appear to be getting worse, booking an appointment to have your eyes examined is a good idea. Optometrists are trained to detect irregularities in your eyes that you may be unaware of.

Professionals at View Point Vision + Style can use modern optometric equipment to take preventative measures before eye pain becomes unbearable or irreversible.

It’s important not to injure your eye further. Here are some things to avoid:

  • Taking out a foreign object that’s become lodged in your eye
  • Using tweezers or cotton swabs in your eye
  • Rubbing your eyes
  • Putting medications into your eyes
  • Touching your eyes

Many eye emergencies can be treated with little long-term impact, but you must seek medical attention right away.

Written by Dr. Janelle Driedger

Dr. Driedger was raised in Manitoba but educated in Tennessee. A southern belle at heart, she has a knack for treating her patients like family. Dr. Driedger is a certified “eye-nerd” and relishes the opportunity to collect anything eye related. She has an eye for style and will happily show you her collection of fashionable eyewear. In optometry school, Dr. Driedger was voted “most likely to have a pink office” and loves the fact that her classmates’ predictions came true when she opened View Pointe in 2019.
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