(If you experience an emergency, dial 911 immediately.)
While it may seem scary to find ourselves in emergency situations, part of managing stressful situations is preparing beforehand. Usually all it takes to end up in an emergency situation is being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being caught unprepared when a sudden and harmful event occurs. Our bodies are remarkably adaptable to emergency situations, and we can help them out by being prepared with knowledge of how to handle such situations. The eye is a body part that is highly susceptible to damage from emergencies, so here’s what to do if you injure your eye.
Eye Emergency Types
Because the eye is a sensitive organ that can be affected by numerous forces, there are many ways that it can be injured or harmed. Here are a few major ones and how to handle them.
If you get harmful chemicals, like bleach or cleaner, in your eye, the first step you should take is to thoroughly rinse your eye out, then schedule an emergency appointment as soon as possible. If you wear contact lenses, try to take them out first. If you work in a place where chemical splashes are common, safety regulations require that a chemical eye wash station be nearby, and you can use this tool to flush your eyes with water and get rid of the chemical burn in your eye as quickly as possible.
If you encounter a chemical spill and a rinse station is not available, follow these steps. To rinse your eye:
- Tilt your head to the side and lay it under a faucet
- Hold your eyelids open and allow cool, clean tap water to rinse the foreign substances out of your eye (this can also be done under a showerhead or with a saline solution)
- Rinse your eye for 15 minutes and contact your eye doctor right away for an emergency checkup.
- Once you’ve finished rinsing your eye, if you haven’t been seen by a doctor yet, use a cold compress to manage any swelling that may result.
A black eye is usually just the result of blunt force blow to the eye or eye socket. Usually, a black eye only needs a cold compress to minimize swelling and help the bruising heal. However, you should still watch out for signs that more damage has been done, such as:
- Bruising that won’t go away
- Impaired vision
- Double vision
- Flashes or Floaters
- Ongoing redness, swelling or secretion of the eye
- Eye bulging
No matter what, if you get a black eye, we still recommend that you schedule an appointment with your eye doctor to ensure that your eye was otherwise unaffected.
Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is not so much an emergency as it is an infection of the eye that causes swelling and eye secretion. This condition is highly contagious, spread through touch, but it usually resolves itself in time. The best thing to do if you have pink eye is to avoid physical contact with others and use prescription eye drops given by your eye doctor to ease the discomfort and fight the infection. Be sure to dispose of any objects that may have touched your eyes while you were infected, like contact lenses, makeup, etc.
Foreign Object In the Eye
Most people know what it’s like to have something stuck in their eye. The eye burns and waters and feels tender until the foreign object is flushed out. This is because the eye’s emergency defense against foreign harmful objects is to produce tears that will flush the object out of the eye so it can’t cause any more damage. But if the problem is more serious, like getting something like sawdust or a glass or metal shard in your eye, dealing with the emergency becomes a little more complicated.
Sometimes, sharp foreign objects will lodge themselves in your eye like a splinter in skin, and getting them out will not be as simple as letting your tears wash them away. The key in this situation is to keep your eyes moist with eye drops or washes. But if the foreign object stays in your eye after the recommended 15 minutes of eye irrigation, close your eye and lightly bandage it until you can receive proper medical attention. This will prevent the issue from worsening. Also, the feeling of having something in your eye may not go away immediately, so it’s still a good idea in this case to set up an emergency eye appointment to ensure that the entire object is out of your eye.
If a large object, like a shard of wood or glass, is visibly protruding from your eye, do not try to remove it, and don’t try to wash it out. Cover the affected eye with a rigid shield made from something like the bottom half of a paper cup to prevent any further damage until you can get a doctor to look at it.
If there’s nothing in your eye and it’s simply been scratched by a foreign body, this is also a good time to close your eye and bandage it until you can get the proper medical attention.
Vision Changes, Red Eyes & Bulging Eyes
Eye emergencies don’t always occur as a result of injury from a foreign object. They can result from too much sun exposure (which can burn your eyes and cause them to become red), a long-term condition that has deprived your eye of healing nutrients or age-related issues.
If you start to notice changes in your eyes like blurry vision, flashes of light, impaired vision, double vision or sudden blindness, seek help from your doctor immediately. These symptoms can be a result of conditions like retinal detachment or chronic eye disease. If one eye seems to be bulging, it may be the result of an internal problem like an eye socket injury, a blood vessel problem or an infection.
Things to Avoid During An Eye Emergency
If you have an eye injury or experience a sudden change in vision, your eye will probably feel different, whether that means it hurts or swells up or just feels odd. Here are some things to avoid doing in order to keep your eye as safe as possible while you seek medical attention.
- Do not rub your eye. Rubbing it will only irritate it more and may cause the problem affecting it to get worse. Your eye is designed to flush out foreign bodies and to heal itself as quickly as possible.
- Do not try to remove a foreign object yourself with tweezers or any other tool. You will risk hurting your eye even more by doing that.
- Do not put medications or ointments on your eye. Usually the best thing to do if your eye is injured and a foreign object won’t leave is to close your eye and apply a cold compress.
In some cases, the best thing to do if you have a serious eye injury is to call 911 and go to the emergency room. However, we make emergency appointments to surgically remove objects from your eye and handle the onset of eye diseases that may be reducing your ability to see. Contact us today if you have any other questions about handling an eye emergency or need to set up an appointment!