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Jan 13, 2021

Balancing Safety and Sight: The Danger of Vision Loss during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted daily patterns of life for everyone, but for some the effect has been more extreme.

This may be the case for older Canadians living with blinding eye diseases such as wet-age related macular degeneration (wet AMD) and diabetic macular edema (DME) who require regular eye injections. These injections called anti-VEGF treatments, reduce the development of blood vessels that would otherwise grow uncontrollably, leading to vision loss or blindness.

Approximately 100,000 Canadians receive anti-VEGF treatments, many of them seniors living in long-term care homes.

COVID-19 has provoked anxiety for this group, with some feeling that it’s now necessary to weigh the danger of contracting COVID-19 against the danger of losing vision.

During the pandemic, clinicians have been prioritizing eye injections for critical cases. And to protect their patients, eye specialists are making the injection experience as safe as possible, including pre-screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms, creating space between appointments, and facilitating physical distancing in waiting rooms.

Despite these measures, clinicians are reporting that up to a third of patients continue to miss their injection visit.

The ophthalmological community upholds the safety of patients –a recent joint statement from the Association of Canadian University Professors of Ophthalmology (ACUPO) and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS) instructs that,

“Physicians should review injection patients’ charts to see if visits can be delayed or treatment extended based on history alone—before bringing the patient to clinic.”

In addition, many eye specialists are expressing the need for treatment options that can be injected less frequently, thereby lessening the burden placed on patients (some anti-VEGF treatments and other treatment options last longer in the eye and are administered less frequently).

In turn, Canadians with wet AMD, DME, and other eye diseases that require anti-VEGF injections can feel more at ease knowing their safety is a priority.  We encourage Ministries of Health to raise awareness on public safety protocols to help families, communities, and health professionals feel as safe as possible around sight-saving treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you or someone you know notices sudden changes in vision, or experiences eye pain, it could be an eye emergency. It is vitally important that you contact your eye doctor or go to emergency as soon as possible.

Let’s make sure we all see each other on the other side of COVID-19.

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