Evaluation & Treatment of Eye Emergencies

Many types of conditions can emergently affect the eye. Consultation with an experienced ophthalmologist is essential to establish a correct diagnosis.

For urgent care, contact the Emergency Department
at Mass. Eye and Ear:

Telephone: 617-573-3431

Many people have transient eye complaints that resolve without intervention. It can be difficult to know when something is serious enough to warrant a trip to the hospital. As a general rule, if your symptoms come on quickly, are severe in nature or persistent, it might be reasonable to seek care. Some particular examples of more worrisome symptoms are:

  • Sudden Vision Loss or Change: Sudden vision loss could be caused by a problem with the blood supply to the eye or a problem with the retina (the film at the back of the eye that receives light). Optic nerve problems can also cause vision loss, but these are usually slower in onset.
  • Severe Eye Pain: Intense eye discomfort can be due to a variety of things such as foreign bodies, eye inflammation or high eye pressure. Any severe pain should be evaluated.
  • Severe Eyelid Swelling or Inability to Open the Eye: This may be due to an infection of the tissues around the eye. The condition may require antibiotics and occasionally may be treated with surgery.
  • Eye Trauma: Complete evaluation by an ophthalmologist is essential after any type of eye injury. Anyone who sustains a serious injury to the eye, including scratches or blunt injuries, should be seen as soon as possible. In the case of a serious eye injury, the injured eye should be covered with a protective shield and the injured person should not have anything to eat or drink because repair in the operating room may be required. An examination by non-ophthalmologist emergency room physicians does not replace a complete evaluation by a trained ophthalmologist. Complete examination of the eyes after an injury includes a slit-lamp examination and dilated pupil examination. Prompt treatment of many eye injuries may lessen the impact of these injuries on patients' future visual functioning.

Many conditions that we see in our Emergency Department can be treated during the initial visit. Some will require subspecialty consultation and/or referral, while others will require a minor surgical procedure or a trip to the main operating room. Full radiology support allows us to investigate all possible diagnoses.

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Blepharitis
  • Cellulitis
  • Chalazion
  • Chemical exposures
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Contact lens related disorders
  • Iritis
  • Acute glaucoma
  • Vascular occlusion
  • Retinal detachment
  • Optic nerve diseases
  • Acute double vision
  • Trauma
  • Corneal abrasion
  • Lid laceration
  • Open globe injury
  • Orbital fracture
  • Hyphema
  • Foreign body injury