Do You Know the Signs of an Eye Emergency?
Pain, double vision, flashes of light. Find out the top reasons to get your vision checked out.
Some eye issues can be scary. By taking prompt action whenever you notice any of the symptoms below—possible signs of an eye disease, injury or a serious medical condition—you could save your sight and maybe even your life.
What happens: You may feel a burning, throbbing, aching or stabbing sensation in or around your eye.
What’s going on: If an injury isn’t the cause of your eye pain, your pain may be due to a condition such as conjunctivitis, iritis, diabetic retinopathy, corneal abrasion, glaucoma, migraine, sinusitis, a stye or the flu.
What to do: Rest your eyes. If you wear contacts, remove them. If you suspect a problem that requires treatment or your pain is severe or persists or you have vision loss, see your doctor or visit the nearest ER right away.
Sensitivity to light (aka photophobia)
What happens: Bright light causes eye discomfort.
What’s going on: Your eyes may become sensitive to light due to several problems, including dry eye, migraine headache, meningitis, retinal detachment, inflammation, use of certain medications, excessive contact lens wear and corneal ulcer.
What to do: Seek immediate care if light sensitivity is moderate to severe or exists in low-light conditions or if you’ve had a cut on the surface of your eye. With mild light sensitivity, avoid sunlight, wear sunglasses or darken the room; if light sensitivity persists, call your healthcare provider.
Changes in pupil size
What happens: Your pupils enlarge without being exposed to lighting changes.
What’s going on: Some people are born with unequal pupils. Others can develop them temporarily. Eyedrops and the medication in asthma inhalers can cause your pupils to enlarge. But pupils can get bigger for no obvious reason. If they do not shrink back, it may indicate an eye, brain, blood vessel or nerve disease.
What to do: If your pupils change size suddenly and don’t return to their previous size, see your healthcare provider—especially if pupil changes are accompanied by symptoms such as blurred or double vision, eye pain, sensitivity to light, fever, headache, nausea or stiff neck.
A veil across your field of vision
What happens: A dark curtain or shadow moves across your field of vision.
What’s going on: It may be caused by diabetic retinopathy (damage due to diabetes) or retinal detachment, which occurs when the retina is scarred or torn, or when fluid or blood separates it from its underlying layer.
What to do: Get emergency medical care. Untreated, a detached retina can result in blindness.
Double vision (aka diplopia)
What happens: You see a double image.
What’s going on: Double vision can be caused by a variety of conditions, including giant-cell arteritis (or temporal arteritis), cataracts, migraine headaches, brain tumors, strokes, aneurysms and problems with the eye’s cornea, nerves and muscles.
What to do: Get help promptly to determine and treat the underlying cause.
Seeing flashes of light
These could be “auras,” which can occur before a migraine headache.