Eye Symptoms That Should Not be Ignored

By Michael J. Dodd, MD

What if you have a red eye? Should you go to the emergency room or see your eye doctor, or hope it goes away? Here we discuss some eye symptoms which should be evaluated by a doctor.

A common eye symptom is the red eye. There are multiple causes of red eyes.  Most are caused by an infection of the protective membrane of the eye known as the conjunctiva, hence the term “conjunctivitis.” In addition to the redness, there is a discharge of mucus or purulent material (puss). Occasionally this can resolve on its own, but if it lasts more than two days, you should see a doctor. A topical antibiotic eye drop will usually clear it up. Sometimes the cornea (the clear front surface of the eye) can get infected and will cause symptoms similar to conjunctivitis, but with more blurry vision. This too needs to be evaluated by an eye specialist.

Sometimes patients suddenly will develop a bright red wing-shaped hemorrhage on the white of the eye. This is caused by a broken vessel under the conjunctiva and can spread around the eye and occasionally include all the white of the eye. This looks frightening but is harmless and does not affect eyesight. This type of hemorrhage is often seen in patients who take blood thinners. But you should get this diagnosis confirmed by an eye doctor.

Patients may develop a red eye and throbbing pain with light sensitivity. This may be an inflammation inside the eye itself known as uveitis. This should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist and requires specialized treatment with multiple office visits. It could also be a sign of an acute attack of glaucoma, which requires rapid treatment by an ophthalmologist, possible laser surgery and multiple office visits.

Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes should always be seen by an ophthalmologist as quickly as possible. There are a variety of disorders which can be the cause of this symptom including;

1. a hemorrhage in the eye related to diabetes, retinal detachment or macular degeneration;

2. an inflammation of the optic nerve;

3. a stroke and

4. miscellaneous other disorders.

What about pain in and around the eye? Moderate to severe pain in the eye should be evaluated by an eye specialist as quickly as possible. The causes are too many to list but briefly include injuries (foreign bodies), uveitis, acute glaucoma and sinus infections.

A last symptom which should not be ignored is double vision. This is different from blurry vision, which means letters or objects are not sharp and clear. Glasses may resolve blurry vision. Double vision means that there are two different images of the same object. In other words, if you are watching TV you would see two TVs side by side or one on top of the other. Double vision is always annoying and makes any activity difficult, especially driving a car. Double vision is always abnormal and needs a careful work-up by an ophthalmologist.

Dr. Dodd is a practicing ophthalmologist at Maryland Eye Associates located in Annapolis, Prince Frederick and Upper Marlboro, as well as an instructor at the University of Maryland Department of Ophthalmology. He can be reached at 410.224.4550 or [email protected]




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