Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) has sought to clarify any confusion around deferring eye appointments during lockdown, following a COVID-19 media conference on Monday 19 July, during which 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”.
In a statement released, MDFA warned Australians to seek advice from their optometrist or ophthalmologist before deferring a consultation and reminded the community that 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.
MDFA has sought to clarify any confusion … following a COVID-19 media conference… during which NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant used eye checks as an example of something that could be deferred
“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,” said Associate Professor Alex Hunyor, Chair of MDFA’s Medical Committee.
“Many urgent, sight-threatening conditions – including wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic macular oedema (DMO) and retinal detachment – aren’t painful,” he explained.
A/Prof Hunyor also encouraged people receiving essential eye injections or laser treatment for wet age related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic macular oedema (DMO) or treatment for any other eye condition, to keep their scheduled appointment.
“Australia is 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.
MDFA CEO Dee Hopkins said 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.
“MDFA rolled out a national campaign, featuring MDFA’s 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. If this is a barometer of what is happening more broadly, the implications are quite concerning,” Ms Hopkins said.
Additionally Ms Hopkins said, “Dr Chant is correct in saying that some eye checks, such as for glasses, can be safely deferred. However, if anyone experiences sudden changes or loss of vision, they should immediately call their optometrist for urgent advice. Specialist eye treatments need to continue as scheduled as they are considered to be medically essential.”
“Call ahead. Ask what extra protocols are in place, and what precautions you can take,” Ms Hopkins said.
“I want to stress: if you have a scheduled eye treatment, if you are a family carer, or someone who needs to take a person to a scheduled appointment, you are 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.
“We urge all Australians to take care of their 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.
You can also call MDFA’s National Helpline – 1800 111 709 – for free telephone advice and a free Amsler grid, which is a useful tool for monitoring vision changes at home,” Ms Hopkins said.