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Emergency Eye Care

For people without training in diseases of the eyes, it can be difficult to know whether a symptom is something that needs emergency eye care, should be seen within the next few weeks, or is safe to ignore. This will help you to understand the difference in urgent versus emergency eye and vision situations.

Is it Urgent or an Emergency?

Urgent symptoms are those that should be attended to within 24 to 48 hours. Conversely, emergency eye or visual symptoms are those where you should drop everything and get yourself to an eyecare professional immediately.

Optometrists are typically your first port of call when it comes to any eye or visual problem. This is because they’re trained to be primary eyecare providers – they are able to assess, diagnose, and manage a wide range of ocular conditions. For diseases or situations that fall outside the optometrist’s scope of practice, for example, those requiring surgery, your optometrist is able to facilitate a referral to the right specialist. This may look like expediting your access to a private ophthalmologist or by alerting the attending eye doctor at the Canberra Hospital ahead of your arrival to the ophthalmology department.

More often than not, a symptom that felt like an emergency can be successfully managed by your local optometrist. This saves you a trip (and the many hours of waiting) at the emergency department of your public hospital.

Emergency symptoms are those that herald an eye disease, or even a systemic disease, that is sight-threatening or life-threatening without immediate treatment. Urgent eye conditions are those that may be uncomfortable, painful, or inconvenient, but don’t present an immediate threat to your vision and can afford to be tended to within a couple of days at a Canberra eye hospital.


Examples of Urgent vs Emergency Eye Care Conditions

This list is not exhaustive nor is it intended to be a prescriptive way of self-diagnosing whether your situation is an emergency or not. If ever in doubt, treat your situation as an emergency. You can consider calling your local Canberra optometrist for a quick discussion of your symptoms over the phone before attending in person. Your optometrist will be able to advise you whether to come into the practice or whether you would be better off going straight to the Canberra Hospital emergency department.

These are some examples where emergency eye care is required:

  • Trauma to the eye, whether from chemical burns, blunt trauma (a blow to the eye), or sharp injury (such as a shard of glass).
  • Sudden loss of vision. Any sudden or rapidly progressive deterioration to your sight is an emergency. This includes loss of all or just part of your vision, and whether the loss results in a total blackout of that area or just a grey haze.
  • Visual symptoms associated with other symptoms. Visual disturbances alongside a feeling of being generally unwell, a deep pain around the eye, jaw pain when chewing, or vomiting, should be assessed immediately.

Examples of urgent symptoms include:

  • A pinprick or foreign body sensation in the eye. You may well have a particle lodged in the eye (which your optometrist can manage), or it may simply be a sign of dry eye disease.
  • Discharge from the eye. Discharge is commonly seen with conjunctivitis, both bacterial and viral. However, it can also be present with dry eyes or allergic conjunctivitis. All of these conditions can be managed as an urgent case with your optometrist.
  • Flashes and floaters. Flashing lights and floating specks in your vision should be assessed by your optometrist within a day or two.

If you have any concerns about your eyes or sight, call Junic Eye Care Plus- your Canberra Optometrist-today on 02 6152 8585.


Modern Optometry. Urgent or Emergent? 2021. Available at: (Accessed February 2023).

Author: Juliet Menakaya, O.D MPH

CANBERRA OPTOMETRIST Juliet obtained her Doctor of Optometry degree from the University of Benin, Nigeria in 2006. She completed an internship programme before migrating to Australia, where she completed a master’s degree in public health at the University of Sydney in 2014. Following this, Juliet obtained a Master of Orthoptics from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in 2017. Juliet has completed her competency in optometry examination with OCANZ (Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand), and obtained her ophthalmic prescribing rights from ACO (Australian College Of Optometry Victoria). Juliet has worked in various positions, including retail Optometry, the Ophthalmology Department at Canberra Hospital, and more recently, at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (ANU). As a dedicated Canberra optometrist, Juliet is passionate about helping people with low vision, and binocular vision anomalies hence her interests in Low Vision Rehabilitation, Eccentric Viewing Training and Paediatric optometry.