Eye Emergencies

An eye emergency is an eye injury where one’s eyesight is at risk. Most eye traumas require prompt treatment to prevent vision loss.  Contact your eye doctor immediately and follow these instructions until you are seen.  If your eye doctor is not immediately available to assist or direct you, report to the nearest emergency room.

DO NOT Do The Following in an Eye Emergency:

  • DO NOT press on an injured eye or allow the victim to rub the eye(s).
  • DO NOT remove contact lenses unless rapid swelling is occurring or you cannot get prompt medical help.
  • DO NOT attempt to remove a foreign body that is resting on the cornea (the clear surface of the eye through which we see) or that appears to be embedded in any part of the eye.
  • DO NOT use dry cotton (including cotton swabs) or sharp instruments (such as tweezers) on the eye.
  • DO NOT let a burn become contaminated.  Avoid breathing or coughing on the burned area.
  • DO lightly patch the eye closed until care can be provided.

Types of Eye Emergencies That May Require Emergency Eye Surgery

Vision Loss

Contact an eye doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.  Most serious forms of vision loss are painless, and the absence of pain in no way diminishes the urgent need to get medical care.  Many forms of vision loss only give you a short amount of time, e.g. less than 60 minutes, to be successfully treated.

Cut Eyelid or Torn Eyelid

Carefully wash the eye.  Apply a thick layer of Neosporin or other antibiotic ointments on the eyelid.  Place a patch over the eye.  Seek medical help immediately.  If the cut is bleeding, apply gentle pressure with a clean, dry cloth until the bleeding subsides.  Rinse with water, cover with a clean dressing, and place a cold compress on the dressing to reduce pain and swelling.  After following the above instructions, seek medical help immediately.

Scratched Eye

If you have a scratched eye, get medical help immediately.  Keep the eye closed.  Apply cold compresses gently to reduce swelling and help stop any bleeding.  DO NOT apply pressure to control bleeding.  After following the above instructions, seek medical help immediately.

Protruding Eye

Bulging of a single eye, especially in a child, is a very serious sign and should be evaluated immediately.

Something in Your Eyes That Cannot be Removed

Tell the person not to rub the eye.  Wash your hands before examining.  Examine the eye in a well-lit area.  To find the object, have the person look up and down, then side to side.  If you can’t find the object, grasp the lower eyelid and gently pull down on it to look under the lower eyelid.  To look under the upper lid, you can place a cotton-tipped swab on the outside of the upper lid and gently flip the lid over the cotton swab.  If the object is on an eyelid, try to gently flush it out with water.  If that does not work, try touching a second cotton-tipped swab to the object to remove it.  If the object is on the eye, try gently rinsing the eye with water.  It may help to use an eye dropper positioned above the outer corner of the eye.  DO NOT touch the eye itself with the cotton swab.  After following the above instructions, seek medical help immediately.

Chemical Eye Injury

Chemical eye injuries require that the eye be flushed with cool tap water immediately.  Turn the person’s head so the injured eye is down and to the side.  Holding the eyelid open, allow running water from the faucet to flush the eye for 15 minutes.  If both eyes are affected, or if the chemicals are also on other parts of the body, have the victim take a shower.  An alternative is to fill the sink with water and have the victim open their eyes under the water, slowly shaking the head back and forth.  If the person is wearing contact lenses and the lenses did not flush out, have the person try to remove the contacts AFTER the flushing procedure.  Continue to flush the eye with clean water or saline while seeking urgent medical attention.  After following the above instructions, seek medical help immediately.

Bleeding in the Eye

Call your doctor if you have an eye hemorrhage in both eyes at the same time or if the subconjunctival hemorrhage coincides with other symptoms of bleeding including easy bruising, bleeding gums, or both.  Go to your eye doctor immediately if you have a subconjunctival hemorrhage and you have pain associated with the hemorrhage, changes in vision (for example, blurry vision, double vision, difficulty seeing), history of a bleeding disorder, history of high blood pressure, or injury from trauma to the eye.

Something Embedded in the Eye

Leave the object in place.  DO NOT try to remove the object. DO NOT touch it or apply any pressure to it.  Calm and reassure the person.  Wash your hands.  Bandage both eyes. If the object is large, place a paper cup or cone over the injured eye and tape it in place.  Cover the uninjured eye with gauze or a clean cloth.  If the object is small, cover both eyes with a clean cloth or sterile dressing.  Even if only one eye is affected, covering both eyes will help prevent eye movement.  Get medical help immediately.

Abnormal Pupil Shape or Size

You should see a doctor if you have persistent, unexplained, or sudden changes in pupil shape or size.  The new development of different sized pupils may be a sign of a very serious condition.  If you have differing pupil size after an eye or head injury, get medical help immediately.


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