Epidemiology of Eye-Related Emergency Department Visits

JAMA Ophthalmol. 2016 Mar;134(3):312-9. doi: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2015.5778.


Importance: Determining the epidemiology of eye-related emergency department (ED) visits on a national level can assist policymakers in appropriate allocation of resources.

Objective: To study ED visits related to ocular conditions for all age groups across the United States.

Design, setting, and participants: Nationally representative data from the US Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) were used to analyze ED visits from January 1, 2006, to December 31, 2011 (6 years). All patients with eye problems presenting to EDs across the United States were eligible for inclusion. A weighted count of 11 929 955 ED visits were categorized as possibly emergent (emergent), unlikely to be emergent (nonemergent), or could not be determined. Data were analyzed from March 1 to May 30, 2015.

Main outcomes and measures: Population-based incidence rates of eye-related ED visits, incidence rates of eye injuries, relative proportions of emergent vs nonemergent eye-related ED visits among different age groups, and independent factors associated with emergent vs nonemergent visits.

Results: From 2006 to 2011, 11 929 955 ED visits (male patients, 54.2%; mean [SD] age, 31 [22] years) for ocular problems across the United States were categorized as emergent (41.2%), nonemergent (44.3%), or could not determine (14.5%). Corneal abrasions (13.7%) and foreign body in the external eye (7.5%) were the leading diagnoses in the emergent category. More than 4 million visits were for conjunctivitis (28.0%), subconjunctival hemorrhages (3.0%), and styes (3.8%). Emergent visits were significantly more likely to occur among males (odds ratio [OR], 2.00; 95% CI, 2.00-2.01), patients in the highest income quartile (OR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.46-1.49), older patients (OR, 2.38; 95% CI, 2.38-2.44), and patients with private insurance (OR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.28-1.30). Mean annual inflation-adjusted charges for all eye-related ED visits totaled $2.0 billion.

Conclusions and relevance: Across the United States, nonemergent conditions accounted for almost half of all eye-related ED visits. Interventions to facilitate management of these cases outside the ED could make ED resources more available for truly emergent ophthalmic and medical issues.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Eye Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Insurance, Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult