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When is Eye Pain An Emergency?

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Eye pain in the form of allergies causing red and itchy eye

Eye pain can be difficult to assess alone because it’s associated with many eye conditions. Pain may be insignificant, or it can mean you’re having an emergency. It’s always concerning when you experience eye pain, but what level of pain justifies a trip to your optometrist

Continue reading to learn more about eye pain, including when you should visit your eye doctor for emergency eye care. 

Understanding Eye Pain

Eye pain is what it sounds like, pain in the eye area. The type of pain you experience can vary. Eye pain can happen on the eye’s surface or within the eye’s internal structures. 

The types of eye pain include: 

  • Ocular pain: Ocular pain occurs on the eye’s surface. It generally has a scratching, burning, or itching sensation. 
  • Orbital pain: Orbital pain happens inside the eye. It can have an aching, gritty, stabbing, or throbbing sensation. 

While eye pain is a common symptom of many eye conditions, it’s rarely a cause for concern. However, some conditions require timely medical attention. If you have eye pain, always take a cautious approach. 

Watch Out for Other Symptoms 

Eye pain doesn’t always develop by itself—you can experience this pain alongside several other symptoms. These symptoms can vary depending on the problem you’re experiencing. 

Possible symptoms presenting alongside eye pain include: 

  • Clear or colored eye discharge
  • Crusted eyes
  • Foreign object sensation
  • Headaches
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nausea
  • Red eyes
  • Tearing or watery eyes
  • Vision loss
  • Worsened vision

What Can Cause Eye Pain? 

Eye pain is a general symptom of many eye conditions and diseases. Determining the cause of your eye pain can be difficult alone. Some cases of eye pain may resolve with time, while others require treatment from your eye doctor. 

The following conditions can cause eye pain: 

While eye pain can be a minor concern, it’s better to be cautious and visit your eye doctor. If you know what constitutes an eye emergency, you can help protect your eye health and vision. An emergency can seem obvious, but the smallest injuries can affect your vision. 

When Is Eye Pain an Emergency? 

It can be tough to tell if you’re having an emergency when you experience eye pain. Eye pain by itself is unlikely to be an emergency. Eye pain presenting alongside other symptoms can be concerning.

Always visit your eye doctor if you’re unsure about eye pain. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Seek treatment immediately if you experience any of the following: 

  • A foreign object or chemical in your eye
  • A swollen eye 
  • Blood or puss coming from the eyes
  • Difficulty opening or moving your eyes
  • Halos around lights
  • Pain alongside nausea or vomiting
  • Severe pain alongside headache, fever, or light sensitivity 
  • Sudden vision changes 

Visit your eye doctor or an emergency room as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms. Knowing what to do in an emergency can help protect your eye health and vision. 

Women experiencing eye pain and rubbing eye which may need emergency look by optometrist.

What Should You Do in an Emergency?

You should visit your optometrist as soon as possible if you experience an eye emergency. They can help assess and treat the cause of your eye pain. While getting to your eye doctor should be your priority, you can help protect your eyes with swift action. 

Follow these steps if you experience one of these common eye emergencies: 

Chemical Contact

Exposure to any chemical can harm your eyes

Use a clean water source to flush your eyes for 15 to 20 minutes. It’s common for your eyes to feel better after the water hits them, but continue rinsing them to remove as much chemical residue as possible. Visit your eye doctor after flushing your eyes for medical treatment. 

Corneal Abrasion

A scratch to your cornea, the clear dome covering your iris and pupil, puts you at risk of infection. Never rub your eye if you experience a corneal abrasion. Touching your eye can move around debris and worsen the damage. 

Gently rinse your eye with clean, cool water to remove as much debris as possible before visiting your eye doctor. 

Foreign Object in the Eye

Never attempt to remove or rub your eye when an object is embedded in it. Touching your eye can further damage it. Visit your nearest hospital for treatment. 

Don’t touch your eye if you have a loose particle (sand, dirt, etc.) between your eyelid or on your eye’s surface. Instead, rinse your eye with clean and cool water to dislodge the debris. Afterward, visit your eye doctor. 

Don’t attempt to force an object out of your eye if it won’t move—seek immediate medical attention instead.

Don’t Ignore Eye Pain

Eye pain can have many causes, making it difficult to know when it’s an emergency. Remember, it’s always better to be cautious with your vision. Never ignore signs of a problem and know that your eye doctor is here to help. 

Contact your optometrist right away if you’re experiencing an eye emergency. 

Written by Joni LaFerla

Dr. Joni LaFerla attended optometry school at the University of Missouri – St. Louis college of optometry where she graduated with honors. She then completed a residency in ocular disease and geriatric eye care at the Kansas City VA Medical Center. In 2008, she was elected as the first female President of the Heart of America Contact Lens Society after serving 6 years as the first female on the board of directors. A former collegiate softball pitcher and first baseman, she is a native of Omaha, NE and enjoys spending time with her family, friends and rescue dogs.
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