NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant’s use of eye appointments as an example of activities that can be deferred during the lockdown has prompted the Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) to warn patients they should seek advice from an eyecare professional first.
The organisation sought to clarify the matter after Chant said eye checks were something that could be put off during lockdown, as long as people weren’t experiencing “pain or other issues”, at the daily COVID-19 media conference on Monday 19 July.
It comes as MDFA notes alarming anecdotal evidence that patients are once again cancelling anti-VEGF injection appointments during lockdowns, with more than half of those cancelling in a high volume Sydney clinic this week.
MDFA warned patients that while eye pain was a sign of a medical emergency, it was not the only indicator of whether they needed to seek urgent medical help for an eye health emergency.
Associate Professor Alex Hunyor, chair of MDFA’s Medical Committee, said Australia was 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 and the Delta variant.
“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.
“Many urgent, sight-threatening conditions – including wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic macular oedema (DMO) and retinal detachment – aren’t painful.
“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.”
MDFA CEO Dee Hopkins said at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there was “a worrying increase” in the number of cancelled essential appointments, particularly for intravitreal injections.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
She said Chant was correct in saying that some eye checks – such as for glasses – could be safely deferred. However, if people experiences sudden changes or loss of vision, she urged them to immediately call their optometrist for urgent advice.
“Specialist eye treatments need to continue as scheduled as they are considered to be medically essential,” Hopkins said.
“If you require injections for wet AMD or DMO or other macular conditions, it is essential that you attend your specialist appointment or discuss your treatment options with your ophthalmologist.”