Getting appropriate eye care

Survey shows people more likely to visit emergency ward than optometrist for eye issues

  • Jun. 9, 2015 1:00 p.m.

From eye infections to eye injury, eye emergencies can come in many different forms and, without proper treatment, can have damaging and lasting effects on your vision.

A recent nationwide survey reveals that when faced with an eye emergency, Canadians are most likely to visit the emergency room or their family doctor rather than an optometrist.

“People are not taking advantage of this health resource because they don’t realize that optometrists have the training and equipment to treat a range of acute eye conditions, or that most can see patients the same day if the matter is deemed urgent,” said Qualicum Beach Doctor of Optometry, Michael Kellam.

“If you had a toothache, you’d likely go to the dentist. Yet, research shows that someone experiencing a red, irritated eye is more likely to head to a walk-in clinic.”

The survey, conducted by the Mustel Group on behalf of Doctors of Optometry Canada, collected responses from 2,500 people across Canada.

While many survey respondents said they would seek treatment from a Doctor of Optometry for non-urgent eye care, such as having their vision checked or being tested for cataracts, a much smaller number — fewer than 20 per cent — said they would see an optometrist if they developed symptoms of an eye infection, or experienced an eye injury or foreign body in the eye.

Optometrists’ scope of practice includes treating urgent eye conditions such as red eye, itchy eyes, eye injuries, foreign objects in the eye and eye infection.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Research, more than 36,600 Canadians visited an emergency department in 2013/2014 seeking treatment for a common eye infection called conjunctivitis — also known as pink eye.

Pink eye, which affects the surface of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid, is the most common eye infection among children.

It is also one of the top 10 causes of avoidable emergency department (ER) visits in Canada.

Most uncomplicated eye conditions can be resolved with the proper diagnosis and treatment.

However, misdiagnosis of an eye infection or injury can have significant consequences, mainly from delaying treatment.

“Many eye conditions present in a similar fashion, but they have different causes and treatments,” said Kellam.

“Under the microscope, optometrists can differentiate between a bacterial or viral infection, or an allergic reaction, and can prescribe the appropriate medication.”

“Without access to this kind of technology, we would essentially have to make the diagnosis in the dark.”

A referral is not required to see a Doctor of Optometry for either acute or preventive eye care. To find an optometrist near you, bc.doctorsofoptometry.ca.

— Submitted by Doctors of Optometry Canada

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