Q: Recently my daughter had a painful red eye and we were not sure where best to seek care. Should we go to an urgent care place, or the emergency room, or where?
A: This is a very common dilemma for people, and too often is not handled well. While urgent care offices are great choices for colds and flu or broken arms and such, they are not the best choice for eye problems. Hospital emergency departments are really meant for sudden onset life threatening conditions, and again not most appropriate for eye issues.
People are often surprised to learn that their family eye doctor, or “Primary Eye Care Provider” is the best choice! Certainly, in private practices, most all eye doctors see and treat eye injuries and infections every single day. It seems that some “commercial” eyewear offices do not treat much in the way of medical eye issues, but virtually all private practices do so. Besides the specialized training to treat such, these docs are equipped with biomicroscopes to give an incredibly clear and magnified view of the eye tissues involved. We use these microscopes even with “routine” eye exams to look for external and internal pathology of the eye.
If you have a PECP already for yourself or your family, ask how they handle such emergencies. Most will have appointment slots reserved every day for such emergent concerns, and usually some system to be reached after hours as well. In my experience, most private practice eye docs will give you their cell number for urgent calls. And to many patient’s surprise, your regular health or medical insurance usually covers care at eye doctor’s offices.
Generally, if your eye emergency has caused a change in vision it is very urgent. Sudden eyesight problems can require immediate care to prevent permanent vision loss. Eye pain can be severe as your eyes have a rich supply of nerves in the surface layers. Abrasions and cuts or trauma can cause very high pain levels. Here in Morgantown, we also see a lot of eye issues with patients who wear their contacts too long, or overnight. This can cause corneal swelling and tissue breakdown. Whatever the cause, once the eye surface has damage, secondary infections can cause scarring and vision loss….making immediate / same day treatment even more essential.
As will all health care these days, it is generally harder to get an appointment quickly. It seems every medical office is overworked and understaffed. We all should get established with a general medical PCP, and an eye specialist PECP. Having a relationship will prove beneficial if or when you need urgent care quickly.