Skip to Main Content

Emergency Physicians often approach the eye examination with some degree of apprehension. Eye complaints comprise up to 10% of Emergency Department visits. A systematic approach to the eye examination can alleviate any discomfort and provide the basis for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.114 The most common ophthalmologic problems that present to an Emergency Department are injuries, inflammation, infections, and visual disturbances.

A careful history will help to guide the differential diagnosis and the physical examination. It must include a history of the presenting complaint, the mechanism of any injury, exposures to chemicals or infectious agents, baseline visual acuity, known ophthalmologic problems, baseline medical problems, current medications, and any known allergies. The eye examination progresses from the outside and works inward, beginning with the visual acuity to assess the function of the eye. It is important to routinely inspect all anatomic structures of the eye regardless of the presenting eye complaint. Secondary problems, such as corneal lesions associated with conjunctivitis, may be missed if a complete examination is not performed on all patients.

The bony orbit is pyramidal in shape and surrounds the eyeball and its associated neurovascular structures. The blood supply to the structures of the orbit originates from the ophthalmic artery. The anatomy of the eyeball and its surrounding soft tissue structures is demonstrated in Figure 153-1. A detailed discussion of the complex anatomy of the eye is beyond the scope of this chapter. The anatomy relevant to the eye examination will be discussed throughout this chapter.

Figure 153-1.

Anatomy of the eye and its surrounding soft tissues. A. Surface anatomy. B. Midsagittal section through the eyeball.

Visual acuity is referred to as the vital sign of the eyes. It provides a means for the functional assessment of this delicate sensory apparatus. Documentation of the visual acuity is essential when approaching a patient with eye complaints. Assess the patient's visual acuity as soon as possible, preferably as part of the triage assessment. Test and document the patient's visual acuity before the physical examination begins. There are few exceptions to this rule. Chemical exposures to the eye require immediate irrigation to avoid potentially irreversible visual loss. In these cases, irrigation should not be delayed for visual acuity testing. In all other cases, visual acuity testing should be the primary component of the ophthalmologic exam. Failure to document visual acuity is a common omission and may have medicolegal ramifications.

Always test each eye individually and then both simultaneously. Test and document the visual acuity with the respective annotation to the right eye (OD), the left eye (OS), and both eyes (OU). Test the problematic eye first. Completely cover the eye not being tested. Light shining into the opposite eye may adversely affect the results of visual acuity testing. A list of commonly used abbreviations in the measurement of visual ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.