Hey all you cool cats and kittens!
With social distancing recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic, optometrists have had to adapt along with everyone else on how to safely continue providing care to their patients.
Between Tiger King binge-fests and no-contact food deliveries, our doctors have been keeping busy screening calls for ocular emergencies, providing video consultations, and attending webinars.
While we miss our patients dearly, we’re postponing routine checkups and non-urgent issues until we’ve got this thing under control. If you’d like to be put on our call list, send us an email and we’ll let you know as soon as we are back to regular hours again to help you book an appointment!
In the meantime, what constitutes an ocular emergency? And do you have an issue that you think should be seen right away? Here are some of the most common symptoms that you should not hesitate to seek help with (and some that may not be as bad as you think!):
New flashes and/or floaters
If you are suddenly seeing flashes of light, or things that look like specks, strands, or “cobwebs” floating around in your vision, this could be a sign of a retinal hole or retinal detachment. More severe symptoms include a portion of your vision that is covered by a dark spot or “curtain”. If you are experiencing this especially after a recent head or eye injury, you should be assessed by an eye care professional as soon as possible.
Painful, red eye
A painful, red, or swollen eye is considered an ocular emergency whether it is caused by an infection, a foreign body, an abrasion or scratch, a corneal ulcer, or from an injury. This can be even more concerning in cases where the vision seems to be affected. These cases would be triaged as urgent at our clinic, so don’t hesitate to contact us!
Sudden pupil defect
Normal pupil response is constriction (or shrinking) of the pupils when exposed to light. This response depends on a pathway that starts when light enters your eye and travels through your brain to the visual cortex at the back of your head, and ends when those signals loop back to reach your iris muscles. An abnormality with your pupil reflexes can reflect an issue along any part of that pathway. If you are noticing that one of your pupils is not reacting in a normal manner, and especially if the same eye is suddenly experiencing decreased vision, you should seek assessment by a healthcare professional immediately.
Sudden double vision
If you are seeing double all of a sudden and your symptoms are not improving, this could signal a problem with one of your cranial nerves. The cause can vary from a viral infection, to a stroke, or even a tumor. Any acute symptoms of double vision should definitely be seen right away!
Recent blur or decreased vision
Any sudden change in vision clarity especially when it’s more noticeable in one eye can be cause for concern. Depending on the reason for the blur, this may be escalated by our doctors for urgent assessment. Many times, blurry vision may be due to a simple change in prescription, and this is one of those cases where a video consultation with one of our doctors can be used to determine whether or not your case is urgent before we arrange for an in-person assessment.
Sorry, but the following cases are not true emergencies!
Sometimes, a blood vessel on the whites of your eyes can pop and cause a bloody, scary-looking, red eye. It’s usually painless and does not affect your vision. This is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage, and can occur naturally from such benign actions as sneezing, coughing, exercising, or heavy lifting. While it can be alarming, it is not serious and it typically goes away on its own after a few weeks. You may want to hide behind some sunglasses in the meantime! Medications that thin your blood and certain blood disorders may contribute to repeated instances of these types of hemorrhages, so you may want to discuss this with your doctor if you are frequently experiencing these symptoms.
While certainly an inconvenience, broken glasses are not considered an emergency. We always recommend a back-up pair of glasses, if you depend on them on a daily basis! If you don’t have a pair of back-up glasses, in the meantime, we would recommend:
Using an old pair of glasses with a usable prescription
Switching to contact lenses (yes, we can ship them to you during the pandemic!)
Some good old-fashioned tape :-)
Insurance coverage ending
Ah, you have insurance coverage from work, you say? Your coverage ends next week, you say? You need to use it up ASAP, you say? We understand this dilemma very well, but unfortunately we’ve gotta classify this as non-urgent.
You may want to ask if your coverage can be extended due to pandemic-related closures. If you are really restricted on time, we do offer virtual gift cards which you can purchase now and use later for exam fees and eyewear purchases when we open again!
Eyestrain & dry eye symptoms
Too much screen time from Zoom calls and Netflix marathons can make your eyes feel strained and dry. This can result in headaches, redness, grittiness, or a burning sensation in your eyes. Luckily, an emergency visit is not required, but you should consider decreasing your time spent on electronic screens, or at least giving your eyes a break every so often.
The 20-20-20 rule is one you can use: take a 20 second break from your screen by looking at something at least 20 feet away, every 20 minutes. For more noticeable dry eye symptoms, you can try hot compresses, oral Omega 3 supplements, and over-the-counter lubrication drops which can help keep your eyes moist and comfortable.
If you're not sure if you have an eye emergency or not, feel free to reach out to our doctors via email, text, or voicemail for advice!
Stay healthy and we'll see you on the other side!
By Dr. Peter Chan, OD.
Stay tuned for future non-COVID related posts! In the meantime, read up on our post on why you might need glasses and if you haven’t had your eyes checked in a while, why not use our handy exam request form and make an appointment with one of our friendly optometrists?
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