When is an eye problem a true eye emergency?

Let me share my story with you.  Imagine you are sitting in the barber chair, handing the barber your glasses, when you notice something peculiar in your vision. By peculiar I mean I saw a shiny piece of something shimmery in my peripheral vision.  It was like I was looking through water in my peripheral vision.  But this “water-like” membrane was floating in and out of my vision.  This was not a typical floater (a tiny speck or string-like thread floating in your vision) that many of us see regularly in our vision.  If you saw this you would know it was something different.

It was not painful and I was pretty sure what it was.  I left the barber and went to the office and had my staff member do retinal photography on my eye.  Sure enough, I had a retinal detachment.  The membrane that lines the back of the eye was separating from the back of the eye.  This is a TRUE ocular emergency.  Since I had already been to my Optometrist (myself) to confirm what it was, I went straight to my retinal specialist.  He looked in my dilated pupil and said, “Kevin, what are your plans for this evening?”  I responded, “You tell me.”  He quickly told me to meet him for retinal surgery later that day.

I had successful retinal repair surgery that same day and all is now well. But if I had ignored the symptoms for 24-48 hours, I could have suffered permanent vision loss.

The more typical symptoms of a retinal detachment are:

  1. Seeing a curtain or shade coming across your vision.  This can come from the top, bottom or either side.
  2. Seeing flashes or lightning-strikes in your eye.
  3. Seeing any kind of new, usually large floater.

Numbers 2 and 3 will probably not be a retinal detachment but it must be ruled out by a professional, so make sure you see your Optometrist for a dilated eye exam to be sure.  Also, if you ever experience any kind of head trauma, even something like an air bag deploying, it is important to see your eye doctor for a dilated exam.  Detached retinas are pretty rare for the general public but those of us who have high near-sightedness are more at risk and need annual dilated eye exams.

Anytime you have rapid changes in your vision or see something in your vision that is out of the ordinary do not ignore it or wait for it to get better.  Go see your Optometrist so he can make sure everything is OK.  The key is to have it evaluated as soon as possible!