Don’t ignore these emergencies that require urgent eye care

Any eye or vision issue that could result in a loss of vision should be assessed by an eye doctor on an urgent basis.  Although eye care emergencies rarely happen to any one person, in a city as large as Calgary, there are eye emergencies every day.  If you experience any of the following, seek care right away.

Eye trauma

When an eye injury occurs, seek care.  Vision is too important not to.  It’s easy to know when to see an eye doctor after a serious injury, but what about minor injuries?

Microscopic pieces of metal, grain, dirt or other substances are the most common foreign body injuries to the eyes.  They are often so small that they don’t feel like an injury.  They feel like an irritation.  Gradually, the eye becomes more irritated, then red, and the vision can become blurred.  In any of these instances, see an Optometrist.  We will help make sure your eyes and your vision is OK. 

After any eye injury, close the eye gently.  Cover the eye with a cold compress and without pressure.  This can help reduce pain and swelling until someone can drive you to the Optometrist. If a foreign object has gotten into your eyes, it’s important not to attempt to remove it yourself as you can inadvertently cause more damage. 

If you’ve splashed any sort of chemical in the eyes, flush your eyes immediately for 15 minutes.  Ideally, you would use sterile saline, but if none is available, clean water is better than waiting.  After you have flushed for 15 minutes, flush again for 2-5 minutes every 15-20 minutes until you can see your Optometrist.  Some chemicals can stay in the eye for up to 24 hours after the initial splash.  Your Optometrist can tell you how long to keep flushing when they see you. 

Safety glasses work!

We do much better at protecting the eyes from injury in our day and time.  Safety culture is far better established today than it was 25 years ago.  Safety glasses and safety visors protect the eyes well when they are worn properly. 

Wear your personal protective equipment whenever you are working with power tools, chemicals, sharps or whenever there is any risk of eye injury.  When patients tell us what happened to their eyes, they almost always say something like “I always wear my safety glasses, except for this one time”.  Wear your safety glasses. 

Sudden vision loss

Any sudden loss of vision is an eye care emergency. It’s surprising how often we hear something like “I thought it would go away”.  If your vision loss is going to “go away” on its own, that will happen within the first 60 minutes.  Even then, you should still have your eyes assessed to figure out why you lost vision at all.  

If you experience any of the following for more than one hour, you should see your Optometrist right away.  If you experience any of these things for less than an hour, you should still see your Optometrist, but it might not be an emergency:

  • “Black Out” or “White Out”
  • Flashes of Light like lightning, sparks or fireworks
  • New Floating Spots, or changes in your floaters, especially when accompanied by flashes of light.
  • Double Vision.  Do not drive if you have double vision.  See your Optometrist promptly.

Final thoughts

Pain, redness, and decreased vision are the three most common indications of an ocular emergency.  If any of these occur suddenly, over the course of minutes or hours, then you should see your Optometrist promptly.  If you experience any of these and they are worsening over time, see your Optometrist.  If you experience any of these over and over repeatedly through the day, or over a number of days, see your Optometrist.

At Doig Optometry, we reserve time each day for urgent appointments.  Both Dr. Doig and Dr. Chorel have experience managing ocular emergencies.  If you are experiencing an eye emergency, or think you might be, please call our office and arrange an appointment to see one of our Doctors.  We are here specifically to help you with your eye care needs.

Remember also that the cost of urgent eye exams is usually covered by your Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan.  

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