What eye symptoms need emergency attention?

Steve von Bergen switzerland soccer football eye injury
Sports-related eye injuries could cause serious complications, such as a detached retina. Here, Swiss defender Steve von Bergen is helped off the field during a World Cup match against France.
Credit: Getty Images

Many people experience temporary eye-related problems such as pink eye (conjunctivitis) from a cold virus or a scratched cornea resulting from an object coming into contact with the eye. 

But there are a number of conditions that constitute true eye emergencies which, if not treated promptly, could result in permanent loss of vision.

In these cases, seeking emergency medical attention from an ophthalmologist is essential to preserving or recovering your vision.

Retinal detachment

This can occur when the sensory layer within the eye lifts away from its inner surface, resulting in abnormal electrical impulses (flashes) and debris to float inside the eye and possibly a wavy quality to vision. A laser procedure to reattach the retina may be necessary.

Chemical injuries

The smallest splash of a caustic liquid that is either acidic or worse, highly alkaline, may result in a chemical burn that compromises vision. Immediately rinse with cool running water before seeking medical attention.

Acute glaucoma

This condition causes the fluid pressure within the eye to suddenly increase, which may result in blurred vision, a red eye, nausea and vomiting, the appearance of a halolike glow around lights and a hazy cornea. Emergency diagnosis, medication to lower the eye pressure and even surgery can be effective.

Retinal artery/vein occlusion 

The eye’s main blood vessels can become blocked, causing sudden and painless blurring or loss of vision. Treatments include medications, injections or lasers.

Mechanical injuries

Rupturing or perforation of the eyeball can happen from a hard poke or hit while playing sports or from a piece of debris entering the eye at high speed, such as an errant shaving from a workshop tool. Wearing protective goggles or a shield is essential to prevent these injuries; once they occur, they require immediate ophthalmological evaluation, antibiotics to prevent infection and possible surgery. Do not touch your eye if you suspect there is something stuck in it, as this will only worsen the injury.

Don’t put your most vital sense at risk. If you’re experiencing any of these or other worrying symptoms, don’t wait to consult a doctor.


What to watch for

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away to diagnose and treat what might otherwise be a permanent threat to your vision:

• Eye pain
• Vision loss
• Seeing a halo
• Flashes or floaters
• Bulging or swelling of the eye
• Double vision
• Discharge, crusting or tearing
• Blurred vision that persists

Dr. Mark Melrose, DO, is a board-certified emergency physician at Urgent Care Manhattan. E-mail him your questions at askdrmark@metro.us.


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