Anyone with less-than-sympathetic parents, coaches, or siblings has probably heard “suck it up” more times than they can count. By and large, a lot of us do. One of the more common treatments for a minor ache or pain is simply waiting and hoping it goes away tomorrow. However, as you might guess, that’s not always a good policy – especially when dealing with your vision. Even minor changes can spell some serious problems. Check below for a short list of red flags that should have you scurrying to the nearest eye doctor.
We’ll start with a no-brainer. If it hurts, get it checked. You might not apply this logic to, say, your shoulders, but you sure as heck should apply it to your eyes. A few potential vision emergencies feel extremely unpleasant, and pain can be the first sign of larger trouble.
Globe injury, glaucoma, scratched corneas, and chemical injury can all cause mild to severe pain. Acute angle-closure glaucoma lies on the far end of the scale. While a relatively low percentage of glaucoma sufferers are at risk (10% in the US), leaving an acute crisis untreated can cause lasting damage within hours. Extreme eye pain, eye redness, colored halos around lights, and nausea are all symptoms and should be addressed as soon as humanly possible.
On the other end of the scale are, strangely enough, chemical burns. Given how poetically awful they sound, you’d think they’d set up some serious alarm bells. However, even a severe burn can cause only moderate pain. If you have cause to think you’ve been exposed to a potentially damaging substance, then don’t shrug off mild discomfort. Immediately flush the affected eye or eyes and seek emergency care.
Physical Changes to the Eye
Another no-brainer. Any noticeable changes to the eye itself can be a major cause for alarm. As mentioned before, chemical burns can often cause discoloration. White patches following exposure to an alkali are indicative of a particularly severe burn and, while a burned eyeball is never something to be waited on, should be seen to immediately.
Hyphemas are another phenomenon to keep an eye out for. Blood pooling at the bottom of the iris or cornea – or a general reddish tinge across the eye – is symptomatic of a hyphema and can be a sign of post-injury bleeding within the eye. Hyphemas generally follow a traumatic injury to the eye, which can range from a baseball to a car crash. They’re a clear sign of globe rupture, a serious condition that can lead to an even more serious infection called endophthalmitis. So, if you’re seeing red, either on your eye or your friend’s, it’s time to call for help.
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Changes to Vision
Oof, now here’s a wide category. A sudden change to vision can occur with just about any ocular emergency. All of the above conditions we’ve mentioned often come along with blurring, darkening or similar issues. However, there are a couple of conditions we’d like to address here that have more specific effects on eyesight.
First, Central Retinal Artery Occlusion, or CRAO. You probably don’t have to be told that sudden complete loss of vision in one eye should have you worried, but, well, it should have you worried. CRAO, in essence, is a stroke, and occurs when the central retinal artery, the main supplier of blood to the eyes, becomes blocked. While some of these other diseases might necessitate a call to an eye doctor, vision loss should have you thinking 911, as it can result from much more serious, widespread strokes or heart failure. That said, once more life-threatening crises are ruled out, it’s time to find an opthalmologist, as CRAO can cause irreversible damage to a sufferer’s vision in as little as 100 minutes.
While not as grave as the prior entry, retinal detachment is also a major problem. Retinal detachment affects more men than women, and more often hits short-sighted people. Spontaneous detachment is uncommon, but injury, old age, a family history of detachment, or eye surgery can all up the odds. Serious vision changes are the most obvious symptoms of retinal detachment. Floaters (specks in the visual field), wavy distortion, and loss of visual acuity can all occur. Notice any of these signs and – we’ll say it one more time – you’d better get on the phone with a physician.
Eye safety tends to be a long list of relatively common-sense practices. If you’re working with potentially hazardous materials, wear eye protection; if you’re playing baseball, try not to get hit in the face. Additionally, be aware of your risk factors. If you know you have a family history of a certain problem, keep an eye out for symptoms in your everyday life. People who suffer from chronic vision disorders, such as glaucoma, have their own set of guidelines.
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