Sight loss has become a concern for many, as eye clinics have reported more than a 70% reduction in new referrals and a high number of missed appointments. Many older adults who have been in lockdown for several months may be facing sight problems.
A new study co-led by researchers from UCL and national sight loss charity the Macular Society set out to address concerns about the long-term impact the lockdown may have on eyesight. It is predicted that between 234 and 470 additional cases of severe sight impairment were recorded in one month during the initial lockdown.
Ophthalmologists in UK eye clinics have reported a 25% reduction in the number of patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) attending necessary appointments for sight-saving treatments since the outbreak began. There has also been a significant drop in new patients presenting with wet AMD, which is a treatable form of the condition.
The Burden of COVID-19
Co-author of the report professor Adnan Tufail raised concerns that people not getting proper eye health treatment will increase the burden that COVID-19 is already having on health, well-being, and social care costs. Ophthalmologists are trying to help by encouraging those at risk to seek treatment before it could lead to severe eye conditions, including blindness.
Professor Tufail said: “We have prioritized appointments for patients who are at a higher risk of their sight deteriorating if left untreated for a short time. Patients who have symptoms of wet AMD mustn’t ignore their change in vision, as early treatment may prevent severe vision loss.”
Cathy Yelf, Chief Executive of the Macular Society, commented: “We know the earlier wet AMD is treated, the more effective the treatment is, so it’s important if anyone notices any changes to their vision that they get it seen to as soon as possible. The number of people affected by macular disease is huge, and it is a problem which is only getting worse—without the threat of a pandemic. We fear that after the coronavirus crisis thousands of people will be left blind because they have missed appointments.”
She adds, “While we understand people’s concerns we know eye clinics across the UK are doing everything they can to ensure patients receiving injections are kept safe and have heard many positive things from people still attending.”
Ophthalmologists urge patients to seek help and not be frightened of visiting hospitals. Clinics are following strict guidance from the CDC to ensure everything possible is being done to make sure patients receiving treatment are in a safe environment. Patients with AMD must continue treatments to avoid any complications.