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    Don’t defer essential eye appointments during lockdown

    Delaying emergency eye care could risk your sight

    Woman having an eye exam

    Delaying emergency eye care could risk your sight

    Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) is seeking to clear up any confusion around deferring eye appointments during lockdown.

    At one of the daily COVID-19 media conference this week, NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant used eye checks as an example of something that could be deferred during lockdown, as long as you weren’t experiencing “pain or other issues”.

    While eye pain is a sign of a medical emergency, pain is not the only indicator of whether you need to seek urgent medical help for an eye health emergency.

    Most serious visual loss occurs without pain

    Chair of our Medical Committee, Associate Professor Alex Hunyor says any sudden changes in your vision – even without pain – could be an eye emergency.

    “Deferring an eye appointment in those circumstances could cause irreversible vision loss,” he’s warned.

    Fears of unnecessary sight loss

    “Many urgent, sight-threatening conditions – including wet (neovascular) age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic macular oedema (DMO) and retinal detachment – aren’t painful,” Associate Professor Hunyor explained.

    “Similarly, if you are already receiving essential eye injections or laser treatment for wet AMD, DMO or treatment for any other eye condition, I strongly urge you to keep your scheduled appointment.”

    “We’re facing an increase in the number of people who could unnecessarily lose their sight due to treatment cancellations caused by fear and confusion around COVID-19,” A/Prof Hunyor added. 

    One in seven Australians over the age of 50 have signs of AMD, and the incidence increases with age.

    DMO is a complication of diabetic retinopathy, the most common cause of vision loss in working-age Australians. Everyone with diabetes is at risk.

    Increased appointment cancellations

    At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there was a worrying increase in the number of people cancelling essential appointments, in particular eye injection appointments.

    “We rolled out a national campaign with our Patron Ita Buttrose AC OBE, to counter this trend last year. The anecdotal evidence is that people are once again cancelling sight-saving appointments as several states battle the virulent Delta strain. 

    At one busy Sydney clinic on Monday, only 23 of 43 scheduled patients attended for their eye injections.

    Dee Hopkins, MDFA CEO

    “If this is a barometer of what is happening more broadly, the implications are quite concerning,” Ms Hopkins said.

    “If you need injections for wet AMD or DMO or other macular conditions, it’s essential that you attend your specialist appointment or discuss your treatment options with your ophthalmologist.

    “Dr Chant is correct in saying that some eye checks, such as for glasses, can be safely deferred.

    “But if you experience sudden changes or loss of vision, you should immediately call your optometrist for urgent advice. Specialist eye treatments need to continue as scheduled. They are considered to be medically essential.”

    Call ahead. Ask what extra protocols are in place, and what precautions you can take.

    Dee Hopkins

    Not breaching health regulations

    “I want to stress: if you have a scheduled eye treatment, if you’re a family carer, or you need to take someone else to a scheduled appointment, you’re not breaching public health measures to attend that appointment.

    “Obviously, if individuals have symptoms of the virus or have had contact with someone who has been infected, they should phone for medical advice, rather than leaving their home.”

    “Please take care of your eye health and seek medical advice before deferring scheduled appointments during lockdowns.

    “The last thing we need is to emerge from this pandemic with another health crisis of people who are blind or have severe vision loss as a result of not treating essential eye conditions.”

    “We understand people are fearful but, please, call and speak with your eye health professional, or the receptionist,” Ms Hopkins said.

    You can also call MDFA’s National Helpline – 1800 111 709 – for free advice and a free Amsler grid, which is a useful tool for monitoring vision changes at home.

    Posted: 22 July 2021

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