What Constitutes An Eye Emergency?

by Dr. Paul A. Raskauskas
Originally Published in the News-Press on March 25, 2014

We see patients with eye emergencies in our offices every day. Sometimes, a patient won’t realize that he or she is experiencing a sight-threatening emergency and will wait to see an eye doctor too late to save precious vision. Typically, a periodic comprehensive eye examination as recommended by an eye doctor will ensure that eyes stay healthy and vision remains clear.

There are some signs and symptoms that should prompt one to call an eye doctor sooner rather than later for an eye examination.

Any sudden onset of visual symptoms:

One should call an eye doctor immediately — including after hours. Sudden blurred vision in one or both eyes can sometimes indicate an underlying and potentially serious health problem such as stroke or diabetes. Sudden onset of flashes, floaters, loss of side vision or total loss of vision that has not been present before can indicate acute retinal disease and may require immediate attention.

Other symptoms usually indicate a less severe problem that does not require immediate attention.

Gradual onset of blurred vision:

Gradual blurring is typically not an emergency. If you notice that your vision becomes blurry gradually, or over a period of time, then it is probably time to schedule an eye examination. This can indicate common conditions such as cataracts, presbyopia, the need for glasses, or a change in your current glasses.

Eye pain/eye strain

Occasional eye pain or fatigue is usually not a serious problem. Many factors can contribute such as environmental allergies or lack of sleep. If eye pain persists for more than a few days, you should call your eye doctor for an examination. Severe eye pain, especially following eye surgery, is often a serious problem that requires immediate attention.


Frequent headaches are usually not an emergency, but can be an early warning sign of a vision problem. When experiencing frequent headaches, one should contact a general medical doctor and might want to schedule schedule an eye examination.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, it’s important to remember that many people do not know they have eye disease and just assume that poor sight is a natural part of growing older. Early detection and treatment of eye problems is the best way to keep healthy vision throughout life. In many cases, blindness and vision loss are preventable.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease get a baseline eye disease screening at age 40. For individuals at any age with symptoms of or at risk for eye disease, the Academy recommends that individuals see their eye doctor to determine how frequently their eyes should be examined.

To learn more about diseases of the retina, please visit our website at www.eye.md.

To learn more about vision symptoms, please visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology at geteyesmart.org.

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