What Is An Eye Emergency?

Dr. Lonnie Luscavage Ophthalmologist Kennett Square, PA

Dr. Lonnie Luscavage is an Ophthalmologist practicing in Kennett Square, PA. Dr. Luscavage specializes in eye and vision care. As an ophthalmologist, Dr. Luscavage can practice medicine as well as surgery. Opthalmologists can perform surgeries because they have their medical degrees along with at least eight years of additional... more

What Is An Eye Emergency?

When something is going wrong with their eyes, many patients don't know if this is something to worry about or just let go. In this article, we will clarify those conditions that are urgent and should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist like Dr. Luscavage right away. Although we obviously cannot cover all problems that could possibly happen to the eyes in this article, these are the most common.

The following are problems that need to be addressed as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours: sudden loss of vision, sudden double vision, foreign body, corneal abrasion (scratched cornea), corneal ulcer (infected cornea), significant trauma to the eye with pain of loss of vision, and flashes of light with floaters.

Sudden loss of vision is an ophthalmic emergency. Although some causes such as a bleed into the eye or a blocked blood vessel have treatment that can wait, it could be a transient ischemic attack or TIA that constitutes a “mini-stroke.” This requires a stroke workup either as a hospital inpatient or as an outpatient with your primary care doctor. It could also be from something called giant cell arteritis that requires immediate oral steroid treatment.

Sudden onset of double vision is also an emergency because it could signify a third nerve palsy which sometimes is a sign of an aneurysm in your brain. An injury related to a trauma to the eye is also an emergency if there is pain and/or loss of vision. Trauma can cause a corneal abrasion (scratched cornea), a foreign body embedded in the eye, a bleed into the front or back of the eye, or even as serious as a break in the wall of the eye (a “ruptured globe”) that needs repair in the operating room. If you have sustained a significant injury to your eye and have pain and redness, please call!

Painful, Red Eyes 

If you are a contact lens wearer and have a painful, red eye, this too is an emergency that cannot wait. This could be an infection known as a corneal ulcer that needs aggressive antibiotic treatment or you could get permanent corneal scarring or worse.

If you have flashes of light coming from one eye or a new floater(s) in your vision, this too is an emergency. This could be a sign of a retinal tear or hole that could progress to a retinal detachment with permanent vision loss if left untreated. An ophthalmologist needs to look at your retina to evaluate you.

Finally, if you have had cataract surgery within the week prior to any of the above symptoms, you need to call the doctor immediately for evaluation as this could be a sign of a very serious infection. Obviously this is not all of the bad things that can happen to an eye, but a good rule of thumb is if your eye is red AND painful or cannot see, please call your ophthalmologist right away.