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    How techs should handle ocular emergencies

    Every practice employee should be trained to assess and assist with emergencies

    When a patient experiencing an ocular emergency walks through the door, it is vital that every member of the team knows what to do in order to save the patient’s sight—and in some cases, his life.

    “The wrong time to train your staff on an emergency is during the emergency,” says Lynn Lawrence, CPOT, ABOC, COA. “They must be trained prior to the emergency walking in the door for the best outcome.”

    Lawrence is an ophthalmic technician in Pensacola, FL, but he served for 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, during which time he was appointed ophthalmic career field manager, overseeing 540 optometric and ophthalmic technicians at 90 locations around the world. Throughout his career, Lawrence has treated countless ocular emergencies, and he now teaches other techs how to recognize and address these high-stakes cases.

    Defining an ocular emergency

    According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are an estimated 1,000 eye injuries occurring every day in workplaces in the United States.1 While patients often think of their current problem or condition—regardless of what it is—as an emergency, a true ocular emergency is a condition that can cause sudden loss of or decrease in vision that could lead to a permanent condition.

    As soon as possible, your team needs to be able to assess the situation before taking action. Techs should be able to classify ocular presentations based on their need for medical attention:

    *Correction: Central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO)

    While some emergencies will be obvious upon presentation, a number of signs and symptoms could signify a true ocular emergency:

    • Sudden increase in ocular pain

    • Sudden blurred or loss of vision

    • Bleeding in or around the eye

    • Trauma

    • Flashes or floaters


    Other symptoms of an urgent condition are:

    • Photophobia

    • Pain

    • Foreign body: organic or non-organic

    • Redness

    • Abrasions

    Next: Have a plan for emergencies

    Colleen E. McCarthy
    Colleen McCarthy is a freelance writer based in the Cleveland area and a former editor of Optometry Times. She is a 2010 graduate of the ...


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