Ocular Emergency: An Ulcer in My Eye?

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This is a guest post by Lisa L., a VSP employee.

I didn’t know there was a such thing as an ocular emergency, then, I lived through one.

“An ocular emergency is occurs when there is a threat to your eyes and vision health – either structurally or visually – that needs to be addressed immediately to save your eyes or your vision,” said Dr. Heidi Pham-Murphy, OD.  “Ocular emergencies can come with the most excruciating pain or sometimes it is silent where you just notice that you are experiencing a sudden decrease in vision or loss of vision. Appropriate triage and treatment is needed to ensure that your pain is alleviated and that your vision is preserved.”

It was about 9 p.m. Tuesday night, my day was done and I was watching TV before bed. My eye started to hurt, and water; nothing too bad. As a daily contact lens wearer, by the end of the day a little fatigue is normal from time to time. I decided to call it a night and go to bed.

Taking out my contact lens kicked the fatigue up several notches. Now, it was really painful and watering nonstop. Upon visual inspection and attempting to wash my eye out, I couldn’t identify what was causing this. I decided a good night sleep was the remedy.

Not so much. When I woke up the next day, the pain was intense; the watering had turned to gushing; and light exasperated both. I couldn’t drive my child to school, I couldn’t work. I could hardly function.

My first call was to my eye doctor. I called the emergency, on-call number to report my symptoms and get advice. In my message I expressed the pain and need for relief. I asked if I should seek care from either the ER or my primary care provider – anything that would help – FAST.

I received a return call immediately from Dr. Heidi Pham-Murphy, OD. She advised me to come into her office. The other two options, ER or MD’s often don’t have a slit lamp; the equipment an eye doctor has that allows them to get up close and personal with your eye ball. She opened her office early so diagnosis and treatment could be expedited.

Upon arrival, I was given numbing eye drops to alleviate the pain and relax my eye enough to get a good look at what was ailing me. Low and behold, it was an ulcer on my cornea.

“I’m sorry. Did you say, ulcer on my cornea?!” I questioned. “Is that a real thing? How does that even happen?” I was shocked.

“Corneal ulcers occur when bacteria or other infectious agents enter your cornea,” reports Dr. Pham-Murphy, “usually this occurs when there is disruption to the “sealed” surface of the cornea. 

After the disbelief wore off, I quickly transitioned to treatment options. The first 24 hours are critical to avoid infection and damage to sight. I was to take antibiotic eye drops every two hours, for the next 24 hours and come back the following day. This wasn’t going to cut it. I had a family vacation planed – departing in less than 48 hours.

Another option the doctor offered was an amniotic membrane. This magical little lens is known to restore and rejuvenate corneas within 24 hours. I was all in.

“An amniotic membrane has amazing wound healing properties.  It stimulates tissue repair and regeneration and has shown much success in the area of corneal injuries and abrasions,” said Dr. Pham-Murphy.

The doctor inserted the oversized, gooey lens on my eye, and taped in shut to keep the environment clean, dark and comfortable. I was to return in 24 hours to have it removed, and my cornea would be restored.

The next day I woke up optimistic and ready to have sight out of both eyes. The removal process consists of grabbing the lens out with an almost tweezer-looking tool. And to say I was gun shy of having something prod at my eye is an understatement.

Once the lens was removed, the doctor reexamined my eye and reported that my cornea was completely healed. The pain was gone and I could see again, such relief. Over the course of the next seven days, I would not be able to wear contact lens and would need to take antibiotic eye drops as a precaution.

I am extremely grateful for the care and amazing customer service Dr. Heidi Pham-Murphy and her staff provided. Had I gone to the emergency room, or  primary care provider, they wouldn’t have been able to quickly diagnose my issue, nor would the treatment or care been as comprehensive as what I received from my optometrist. Having the right resources at the right time is critical – and she took care of billing my health plan too.

“As primary care providers, we as private practice Optometrist have the tools, the knowledge, the treatments and the level of concern for our patients to care for them both for routine care and even more so in our patient’s time of urgent needs.  We are here to care for our patients today and to care for their Vision for Life!” said Dr. Pham-Murphy.



  • Heidi Pham-Murphy, O.D. says:

    Thanks for entrusting me with your care! Glad you are better and had a wonderful vacation!

  • Dena says:

    This was a very informative article. I had no idea that I should call my eye doctor in an eye emergency because they have all the equipment to diagnosis and treat an eye emergency.

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