Sight is one of the essential senses, but new research says that you are probably going to the emergency room too often for vision problems. 

In the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, researchers from John Hopkins University found that nearly 50% of visits to the ER for eye problems were non-emergency situations that would have been better addressed at your local pediatric ophthalmologist or urgent care center.

Statistics on eye-related injuries

The research, which tracked more than 12 million emergency room visits for eye-related injuries from 2006-2011, found that:

  • 54.2% of visits were by males (of any age)
  • 41.2% of visits were for emergency situations, including corneal abrasions (when the eye is scratched by a foreign body) and a foreign body in the external eye.
  • 44.3% of visits were for non-emergency situations like conjunctivitis, styes or subconjunctival hemorrhage.

The study concluded that having better interventions to treat these non-emergent conditions outside of the emergency room could make medical resources more available for actual emergencies.

When to go to the ER

For many parents and guardians, all eye conditions affecting their children can constitute an ‘emergency’. But in the medical field, eye emergencies refer to conditions that require immediate medical attention and care to preserve one’s ocular health.

True eye emergencies warrant a prompt visit to the ER or with your trusted pediatric eye doctor. Not doing so can affect your child’s health, causing permanent vision loss or impairment. 

So, here are some of the most common symptoms that may indicate that your child has an urgent eye condition.

  • Loss of vision
  • Bleeding eye
  • Bleeding or blood at the white of the eye.
  • Burning, stinging, and worsening eye pain
  • Bulging eye
  • Abnormally-sized pupils
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Double vision
  • Severe swelling
  • Light sensitivity

Some cases of eye scratches can also become an emergency depending on what caused the scratch. For example, a scratched eye due to constant rubbing may be better addressed at an eye clinic or urgent care. But an eye scratched by a wild animal should be a cause for concern and requires a visit to the ER or ophthalmologist.

Types of eye emergencies

Eye emergencies can be frightening since such injuries can potentially cause your child to lose their eyesight. But learning more about these eye injuries can help you save their vision by turning to medical doctors for help.

Below is a list of the most common causes of eye injuries that usually require prompt medical attention.

Foreign object penetration or injury

Regardless of its size, any object that comes into contact with the eye has the potential to injure it, especially when rubbed or moved around. Minute dust or a stray eyelash may be cleared out by blinking or locating the object using clean hands. It may become an emergency if irritation persists and pain worsens.

On the other hand, high-speed entry of small glass shards, metals, and other objects can significantly threaten eye health. So when this happens, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately. While waiting for medical care, here are some things you or your child might do.

  • Do not rub, wash, or put any pressure on the affected eye.
  • Do not attempt to remove or flush it out using water. Doing such a thing can further injure the eye.

Chemical injury

Children can sustain severe eye injuries when their eyes come in contact with liquids or substances that contain harmful chemicals. Some examples include pesticides, industrial cleaning agents, sodium hydroxide, lye, toxic fumes, and other acidic or alkali liquids.

Some of the severe side effects of chemical injury to the eye include the following:

  • Ocular burn
  • Corneal perforation
  • Cataract
  • Glaucoma
  • Retinal damage
  • Permanent loss of vision

When such an injury happens, try to flush your child’s eye using clean water while waiting for medical assistance. It’s imperative to receive treatment right away as this will dictate your child’s eyesight prognosis.

Cut or lacerations

Lacerations to the eye and its surroundings can lead to serious repercussions. When an object penetrates the eye’s interior, then it may lead to a ruptured globe. This can cause:

  • Distorted eye
  • Abnormally-shaped pupil
  • Decreased eyesight
  • Fluid leakage in the eye
  • Bleeding in the conjunctiva

Blunt eye trauma

Blunt eye trauma refers to an eye condition typically caused by a sports injury, car collision, or work-related accident. It occurs when the eye area sustains a direct blow or blunt trauma. 

Blunt eye trauma can cause severe injuries to the eye, such as hyphema, orbital fracture, and damage to the eye’s internal structures. All of these injuries can significantly threaten a child’s vision, which can then lead to permanent eyesight loss.

The takeaway

Foreign objects in the eye, chemical injury to the eye, cuts and lacerations, and blunt trauma to the eye are all medical emergencies and need urgent evaluation by an eye doctor. 

Where to find the best pediatric eye doctor in NJ?

Eye injuries, no matter how small, should warrant a visit to an ophthalmologist like Dr. Amy Lambert or Dr. Rachel Bloom here at Pediatric Eye Associates.

Our practice is one of the leading pediatric eye care facilities in Livingston, NJ. Our board-certified ophthalmologists specializes in diagnosing and treating various eye conditions in children. Contact us now to learn more about our services. 


The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.