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Eye Pain (cont.)

When Should Someone Seek Medical Care for Eye Pain?

If one has eye pain, seek advice from a health care provider or an ophthalmologist. It is difficult over the phone for a health care professional to grade the severity of eye pain or make a diagnosis without examining the patient.

Because of the specialized nature of the equipment necessary for eye examination, most eye problems are usually handled best in an ophthalmologist's office. If your ophthalmologist is not available, go to a hospital's emergency department. If the emergency department has the necessary eye equipment, an ophthalmologist may see you in the emergency department after hours.

  • Any eye pain related to burns (chemical or flash) needs immediate treatment.
  • Eye pain associated with loss of vision, loss of eye movement, painful eye movement, eye swelling, eye discharge, and severe headache are all significant findings that need to be evaluated by an ophthalmologist or in the emergency department immediately.
  • Any eye pain related to a traumatic event such as an object puncturing the eye, a blow to the eye with a foreign object, or a motor vehicle collision with injuries affecting the eye needs to be evaluated by an ophthalmologist or in the emergency department immediately.

Questions to Ask the Doctor About Eye Pain

  • Is there any sign of damage to the eye?
  • Is there any possibility of permanent vision loss?
  • What type of follow-up is necessary to make certain my eye heals properly?

How Do Health Care Professionals Diagnose Eye Pain?

Medical evaluation of eye pain begins with a thorough history and physical examination. The history consists of questions documenting the symptoms in detail.

  • Important questions that should be asked and answered include when the pain started, the location of pain, the intensity of the pain, the duration of pain, the characteristics of pain, anything that makes the pain better or worse, what activities was one engaged in when the symptoms began, history of contact lens use, and previous eye injuries or surgeries.
  • Other important questions are whether one has allergies to medications, one’s current medications, past medical history, past surgeries, family history, and social history (including work and travel habits as well as any history of alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drug use).
  • The physical examination pertaining to the eyes may first consist of checking vision, visual inspection of the eye and its surrounding tissue, and examining eye movements, visual fields (peripheral vision), and the pupil's reaction to light.
  • The ophthalmologist may use instruments to get a better look at the internal structures of the eye.
    • An ophthalmoscope, which is a special tool for visualizing the eye, is used to examine the back of the eye and to view the optic disc and blood vessels.
    • A slit lamp is a microscope used to view the surface of the eye up close and in detail to evaluate for possible corneal abrasions and ulcerations. It is also used to look into the anterior chamber, which is the area between the surface of the eye and the pupil.
    • Eye pressure can be checked using a tonometer on the slit lamp or a device known as a Tono-Pen. These two instruments are used if glaucoma is suspected.
    • The ophthalmologist may also put an anesthetic drop into the eye for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. This test helps to determine if the eye pain comes from the surface of the eye or from deeper structures in the eye. In most cases, pain can be relieved by the topical anesthetic if it originates from the surface of the eye.
    • A dye called fluorescein may be put into the eye to detect abrasions, ulcerations, or any corneal defect. A special blue light will be used in conjunction with the fluorescein to check for these problems.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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