RANZCO’s fundraising division the Australian and New Zealand Eye Foundation (ANZEF) has this month launched its 2021 JulEye campaign, reminding Australians of the eye health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption.
With one in four Australians drinking at risky levels, alcohol is associated with more than 150,000 hospitalisations every year. Eye injuries account for a portion of these, either through accidents, violence or forgetfulness with contact lenses.
Sydney ophthalmologist and JulEye spokesperson Dr Chameen Samarawickrama has treated many of these patients and found the most common injuries are trauma to the eye and eye socket fractures.
According to ANZEF, the government’s 2019-2028 National Alcohol Strategy revealed that among recent drinkers, 6.7% had injured themselves or someone else because of drinking in their lifetime, and 2.3% had done so during the past 12 months.
“There are well established connections between excessive drinking and anti-social behaviour, which can lead to black eyes, fractured eye sockets and permanent loss of vision,” Samarawickrama said.
JulEye is an annual national eye health awareness campaign held each July by ANZEF, an internal RANZCO committee that serves as the college’s fundraising division for projects that prevent avoidable blindness in the Asia Pacific region. Last year’s campaign focused on household eye injuries.
Samarawickrama said it was not only excessive drinking that could cause damage to eyesight. He frequently saw patients who have been drinking and forgotten to remove their contact lenses before going to sleep.
“Leaving contacts in overnight creates risks such as infection, ulcers and permanent damage to vision,” he said.
“It’s these seemingly inconsequential decisions that people make while under the influence of alcohol that can have life-changing consequences.”
However, ANZEF pointed out it’s not all bad news. Surveys show Australians are reducing their alcohol intake in response to better understanding the risk factors involved.
It’s recommended healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day.
“The next time you’re having a drink, think of your eyes and don’t end up a blind drunk,” Dr Samarawickrama said.