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How to Know If Your Eye Pain Is an Emergency

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Women experiencing pain in eye which may require visit to optometrist

We know accidents happen—glasses can break, something can get caught in your eye, or you could get scratched. When it comes to an incident that might affect your vision, it’s vital to seek emergency eye care immediately to prevent further damage. But this begs the question: how do I know if my eye pain is an emergency?

Many eye emergencies can be treated by your trusted optometrist. Learning the signs and symptoms of an eye emergency is an important first step in knowing when to visit your eye doctor or the nearest emergency room. 

Symptoms of an Eye Emergency

An eye emergency can arise suddenly, and without the correct treatment, it can lead to partial or permanent vision loss. Symptoms of an eye emergency include:

  • Sudden vision loss
  • Stinging or burning sensation
  • Eye pain
  • Double vision
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Bleeding or discharge from the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Redness or irritation
  • One eye is bulging
  • Severe headaches

Eye Injuries that Require Emergency Care

A number of different situations can cause symptoms of an eye emergency. Contact your eye doctor or visit the nearest emergency room if you sustain any scratches, foreign objects in your eye, chemical burns, eye bleeding, or eye swelling.

Foreign Object Stuck in Your Eye

Potential foreign objects that can get stuck in your eye could be things big or small.

A larger foreign object such as a piece of glass or metal can cause serious damage to your eye. If the object has penetrated your eye, please do not try to remove it yourself. Visit a doctor as soon as possible.

Something smaller causing irritation, such as sand or dust, also constitutes a foreign object. Though it may seem less drastic, it can still cause damage to your eye or vision loss. Before visiting your eye doctor, you can take the following steps:

  • Blink frequently to try and remove the small foreign body but do not rub your eye
  • Use artificial tears to try and flush the foreign body
  • Try to locate the foreign body (wash your hands before bringing your hands near your eyes)
  • Contact your eye doctor if the irritation continues or you cannot flush the foreign body

Corneal Abrasion

A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the surface of your eye. It can be caused by something poking your eye, like a tree branch or fingernail, or rubbing your eye when there’s a small foreign body present. 

Corneal abrasions can put you at risk for a serious eye infection. Contact your eye doctor immediately if you know something has scratched your eye.

Chemical Substance

Chemical exposure in or around your eye can cause a burning or stinging sensation and lead to a chemical burn. A chemical eye burn can cause permanent damage to your vision.

We can divide chemical eye burns into 3 categories based on the substance’s pH level:

  • Alkali burns from a chemical substance with a pH of 7 or higher. Common at-home products that could cause alkali burns include fertilizers, drain cleaners, and plaster.
  • Acid burns from chemical substances with a pH of less than 7. Common at-home products that could cause an acid burn include glass polish, nail polish remover, and car battery acid.
  • Irritants are substances with a more neutral pH that cause more discomfort than damage to the eye. Common at-home products include household detergents.

If you get any type of chemical in your eye, flush your eye with clean water for at least 15 minutes. Flushing your eye immediately will help dilute the chemical. After rinsing, contact your eye doctor as soon as possible.

Black Eye

Getting hit in the eye can cause swelling and bruising to occur. Using an ice pack can help control the swelling. Still, you should visit an eye doctor to ensure there is no internal damage to the eye that can later affect your vision.

Man visiting eye doctor for emergency due to bruised eye

Avoiding Further Damage

You can use some first aid strategies if you or someone you know is experiencing an eye care emergency. By being proactive, you can help maintain the health of your vision.

  • DO NOT rub or apply pressure to your eye
  • DO NOT try to remove foreign objects that have penetrated the eye
  • DO NOT use tweezers or other tools in or around your eye
  • DO NOT put medication, eye drops, or ointment in your eye

Prevent Eye Injuries in the Future

Though accidents are unexpected, there are steps you can take to protect your eyes and vision to lower the risk of an incident resulting in an eye emergency. This includes:

  • Wearing safety protection when working with tools or machinery
  • Use specialty sports safety eyewear during games
  • Follow directions when using chemical products
  • Keep sharp objects away from children and supervise when in use

Taking steps to protect your eyes is essential, but accidents may still happen. When in doubt, it’s best to contact or visit your eye doctor.

Treating an eye injury immediately will avoid further damage to your vision. Contact the professional team at Okotoks Eyecare if you are experiencing an eye emergency. We’re equipped to help you.

Written by Dr. Asim Prasad

Dr. Asim Prasad is a native Calgarian who earned his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Vision Science and Doctor of Optometry degree from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 2008. Before becoming an optometrist, Dr. Prasad earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Alberta. After working in the environmental science industry for a short time, Dr. Prasad decided to pursue his true passion: optometry.
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