Risk of Increased Blindness in COVID Confusion

Risk of Increased Blindness in COVID Confusion

Australia is facing a massive increase in the number of people who could unnecessarily lose their sight to wet age related macular degeneration (AMD) due to treatment cancellations caused by fear and confusion around COVID-19. One in seven Australians over the age of 50 have signs of AMD, and the incidence increases with age.

“Ophthalmologists are seeing a worrying increase in the number of people cancelling eye injections, said Prof Paul Mitchell AO, internationally renowned ophthalmologist and National Research Advisor for Macular Disease Foundation Australia.

“In my own clinic, up to one third of patients with conditions such as wet (neovascular) age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD) or diabetic macular oedema (DME) are skipping these crucial appointments. Wet AMD needs treatment for many years, while DME or diabetic retinopathy mostly needs treatment for one year or so, and may also need laser treatment. However, none of these people have, or are suspected to have, contracted the virus. 

“Projecting from my clinic, that means thousands of Australians are gambling with their vision. Without these regular injections, there’s a high risk that people will go blind or suffer significant vision loss, which is often then irreversible,” Prof Mitchell said.

The Australian Government’s strong guidance is for all Australians to self-isolate, unless for essential medical or health care needs. Vulnerable Australians are subject to additional advice to stay at home, to the maximum extent possible. Residential aged care facilities have even stricter requirements. Prof Mitchell said eye injections are considered essential medical treatment, while any sudden loss of vision in either eye, was an eye health emergency requiring urgent attention. 

“We understand people are fearful but, please, ring and speak with your ophthalmologist, or the receptionist. You can also call MDFA’s National Helpline – 1800 111 709 – for free telephone advice and a free Amsler grid – a useful tool for monitoring vision changes at home,” Prof Mitchell said