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Patients gambling with vision due to COVID confusion

Uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 lockdown measures has led to a major spike in missed appointments for macular disease treatment, sparking concern that thousands of Australians are putting their vision at risk.

The Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) is warning the nation’s leaders there could be a “massive increase” in vision loss because patients with neovascular age-related macular degeneration (nAMD) are cancelling treatments due to fear and confusion.

Professor Paul Mitchell, national research advisor for MDFA, said an increasing number of patients were concerned they will be penalised for leaving their homes in breach of COVID-19 public health measures.

“In my own clinic, up to one third of patients with conditions such as wet AMD or diabetic macular oedema are skipping these crucial appointments. However, none of these people have, or are suspected to have, contracted the virus,” he said.

“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.”

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.

MDFA medical committee chair Associate Professor Alex Hunyor said where possible, ophthalmologists are rescheduling non-urgent appointments or treatments.

“Eye injections are essential medical treatments and need to continue as scheduled. Clinics are taking even more precautions now and waiting rooms must comply with social distancing protocols,” Hunyor said.

“Many ophthalmology practices are asking patients to wait in their cars and calling them to come in only when required.”

Mitchell said patients were calling ophthalmology practices concerned they will be fined for leaving their home to attend a medical appointment.

He stressed that if a patient has a scheduled eye injection, and if a family carer or someone needs to take a patient to a scheduled eye injection, they are not breaching public health measures to attend the appointment.

“If the patient has the virus or has had contact with someone who has been infected, the ophthalmologist should be contacted by phone to re-schedule.’’

MDFA advised that people living in residential aged-care facilities need to have a discussion with the aged care provider or manager about the necessary provision to ensure they continue to have access to eye injections appointments.

“Some facilities have currently unfortunately stopped such appointments,” MDFA CEO Ms Dee Hopkins said.

“We urge all Australians to take care of their eye health and attend scheduled treatment appointments during the coronavirus crisis. 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 their AMD, or diabetic eye disease,” she said.

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