Eye Emergencies

What is an Eye Emergency?

An eye emergency is any event in which eyesight is at risk. Events that risk eyesight require prompt treatment to prevent vision loss. Eye emergencies are common.

What do I do?

Contact your ophthalmologist immediately. If your ophthalmologist is not immediately available to assist or direct you, report to the nearest emergency room. If you feel that you have an urgent problem that requires immediate attention, you may call 911 or proceed to an emergency room of your choice. This site cannot offer specific medical advice but can make the following general recommendations:

If you have an emergent eye condition, go to a hospital with an ophthalmologist on staff and readily available.

If you live in the Philadelphia area, you may come to the Scheie Eye Institute, located on the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center campus at 51 N. 39th Street. We do accept EMERGENCY walk-ins during office hours of 8 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday. You will be seen through the clinic as soon as a physician is available. After hours or on the weekends, go to the Penn Presbyterian Emergency Department. The Walk-in service is for TRUE EMERGENCIES only. If you have an eye problem that has been ongoing, schedule an appointment by calling 215-662-8100.

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Chemicals in the Eye

If you get an acidic or caustic chemical in your eye (e.g., chemical burn), irrigate your eye with clean contact lens solution, if none is available, you may use clean tap water. Do this for 15 minutes, and then go directly to the nearest emergency room.

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Mechanical Injury to the Eye

If you mechanically injure your eye or something gets in your eye, DO NOT push on your eye. DO cover your eye with a rigid shield, if one is available. DO NOT put anything under the shield that would press on your eye. A pair of glasses or sunglasses will also provide protection. Alternatively a rigid shield can be fashioned from the bottom of a paper cup.

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Minor Eye Injury

For minor or less urgent injuries, proceeding directly to an ophthalmology clinic is often the wisest choice. Remember that ophthalmology is a very specialized field that requires special equipment: the direct approach is the wisest, quickest and, often, least expensive option.

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What are the symptoms of an eye emergency?

The following symptoms require immediate consultation with an ophthalmologist:

  • Chemical contact with eye or face
  • Severe eye, head or face injury
  • Sudden loss of all or part of your vision
  • Bulging eye
  • Painful eye
  • Onset of flashing lights, floaters, or a noticeable increase in the amount of flashes and floaters
  • Appearance of a "veil," or curtain across the field of vision
  • Sudden changes in pupil size
  • Eye that is sensitive to light
  • Foreign body in the eye
  • Double vision
  • Post-operative patients with pain in or around the eye, infectious discharge, increased redness, or decreased vision (in either eye)

The following symptoms require contacting an ophthalmologist as soon as possible:

  • Red eye
  • Sensation of a foreign body present
  • Excessive tearing
  • Presence of pus or crusting

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Prevention of Eye Injuries

Protective Equipment

Most of these injuries can be prevented with protective eyewear. The best prevention of an eye injury is to use protective eye equipment as appropriate such as, when playing sports, or working with caustic chemicals. For other eye emergencies, the best prevention is an immediate response to the symptoms of an eye emergency.

Sports Injuries

Each year, more than half a million people suffer eye injuries while playing basketball, baseball, racquetball, hockey and other sports. Children are especially prone to sports-related eye injuries; they suffer more than 160,000 such injuries annually.

To reduce your risk of injury, wear certified protective eyewear whenever you play ball sports or hockey. Certified lenses display approval stickers from either the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Regular glasses, sunglasses, open-sided eye guards and contact lenses do not provide adequate protection.

Adequate eye protection is especially important for people with low vision or a blind eye, as they may be at greater risk of going completely blind after suffering an eye injury.

If you do injure your eye, seek emergency medical attention if:

  • Your eye is hit at a high speed
  • You experience a change in your vision
  • You have double vision
  • You feel pain in your eye
  • Your eye is black and blue

With prompt medical attention, eyesight often can be preserved even after severe injuries.

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