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Red Eye Emergencies | 2 Dangerous symptoms that require a visit to the ER

What is a Red Eye Emergency

Many people will experience symptoms of red eye emergencies at some point in their lifetime — often all at once. Red eyes on their own are usually not a cause for concern; however, at their most severe it can cause significant discomfort, impact your quality of life and may even be signs for vision or life threatening conditions like glaucoma or a stroke.

Dry Eyes, Red Eye Emergencies

When are Red Eyes Considered Emergencies

The majority of red eye emergencies are not severe cases, but if you are experiencing eye pain or have sudden vision loss, see an optometrist as soon as possible. If you are unable to get to an optometrist’s office, immediately seek medical attention from the closest emergency room (ER).

If you develop red eyes due to an injury or after physical trauma, seek immediate medical attention. Eye injuries and ocular trauma can result from blunt objects hitting your eyes, contact with chemicals, cuts and scratches, and any abrupt or severe compression of your eyeballs.  In addition, if red eyes are accompanied with symptoms like watering, eye pain, headaches behind eyes, or impaired vision, you may be experiencing red eye emergencies.

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:

Ocular Trauma

Green or white ocular discharge, bruised eyelids or foreign body sensation in the eye.

Eye Injury 

Cuts or scratches to the  cornea, conjunctiva or lids, exposure to chemicals leading to burns

Eye Injury 

Cuts or scratches to the cornea, conjunctiva or lids, exposure to chemicals leading to burns are considered red eye emergencies.

Red Eye Emergencies: Symptoms & Causes

You can experience a red eye emergency in one or both eyes. They have a wide range of causes such as bacterial or viral infection, allergies, foreign bodies in the eye, and other ocular trauma. Red-eye symptoms include:

Headache behind eyes



Light Sensitivity


Halos around lights

Hazy vision

Distorted or Blurred Vision

If you are suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, our expert Optometrists will evaluate the red eye emergencies, diagnose and treat not only the symptoms but the underlying cause(s).

Red Eye Emergencies

When Should You Go to the Hospital for Eye Pain?

Eye pain, sudden changes to your vision, vomiting & nausea can indicate a serious medical problem. Eye trauma is not limited to your eyeballs. Serious injury can include any damage around your eyes (adnexa), your eyelids and the eye socket (orbital) bones surrounding your eyes.  

Are you noticing floaters or flashes in your vision? If so, you should seek immediate medical attention. The onset of flashes and floaters could result from issues with your retina (the back part of your eyes) and can occur from a retinal hole, tear or detachment. In these situations, time is of the essence.

Who to Contact for Red Eye Emergencies

Unsure if urgent or emergent aid is needed? If you are experiencing red eye emergencies with the symptoms listed above, contact your optometrist as soon as possible. If you are unable to get to an Optometrist’s office, you should head to the ER immediately. 

Your Optometrist 

We evaluate, diagnose and treat symptoms and the underlying cause(s). You don’t have to live with these symptoms.

Non-Urgent Care

Call 811, a toll-free number for Canadians to use for non-urgent health services, questions, and guidance.

Eye Injury 

Call 911 or visit your local hospital for immediate urgent medical assistance for red eye emergencies.

Red Eye Emergencies
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Red Eye Emergencies FAQ

When Are Vision Problems an Emergency?

Sudden changes to your vision could constitute an eye emergency. Our eyes change as we age but if you abruptly cannot see out of one, or both eyes, immediately seek medical attention. Symptoms that require medical attention include the following:

  • Blind Spots
  • Tunnel Vision
  • Double Vision
  • Visual Distortions
  • Flashes & Floaters

Is Blood in the Eye Serious?

Blood in your eye(s) is often harmless but could lead to complications if untreated. Most eye bleeding is caused by the tiny blood vessels bursting. The most obvious sign is a red patch on the white part of your eye or red covering the entire white part of your eye. 

How Long Does a Bloodshot Eye Last?

Typically bloodshot/red eyes last no longer than two weeks and will resolve on their own without treatment. If bloodshot eyes last longer or keep recurring, speak to your optometrist and get the appropriate testing done.

How Should I Treat Bloodshot Eyes?

Prior to seeking medical attention, there are a handful of at-home treatments for bloodshot (red) eyes. 

  • Eye Drops (Artificial Tears). There are many different types of both over-the-counter and prescription eye drops, so it is best to ask your eye doctor for recommendations. Need help deciding which type to use? Read our article for more information.
  • Steroid Eye Drops. Steroid eye drops can be extremely effective but there is the potential for side effects, so it is important to disclose your health history to your optometrist. The chance of side effects with steroid eye drops is lower with short-term use. Long-term use can increase the risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma. This is why it is vital to book an appointment with your eye doctor to review the best treatment options for you. 
  • Decongestants. Bloodshot/red eyes can occur with seasonal allergies. Decongestants are intended as a short-term solution to be used for no more than a few days. Long-term use can actually worsen the redness. Avoid using them for more than three consecutive days to prevent rebound redness and other complications. 
  • Cold Compress. Start by applying a cold compress, or an ice pack wrapped in a clean hand towel, to the affected eye to help reduce inflammation, redness and provide relief. When wiping away eye discharge, use a warm washcloth and ensure other household members don’t use it afterward.

Are Bloodshot Eyes Anything to Worry About?

Bloodshot/red eyes are a common condition that occurs when small blood vessels in your eye burst (subconjunctival hemorrhage). While it can look alarming, it is typically harmless. The red patch can range from a small area to covering the entire white of your eye(s). It is best to see an Optometrist for the appropriate treatment.

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