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Mar 24, 2020

Information about COVID-19 and Your Eye Health

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We understand this time of uncertainty may be confusing. We have prepared answers to some questions you may have about your eye health during these times.

Please note, different levels of government and professional associations have made recommendations regarding healthcare practices in response to COVID-19. There may be different recommendations depending on your personal eye health, health care provider, or where you live.

Your health care providers are working hard to decide the appropriate time for your next appointment. Please be patient during this time.

Covid information and recommendations are changing rapidly. Please check back on our website for updates to this information.

Do you have questions that are not covered here? Call or email our health information line:

Phone: 1.888.626.2995
Email: healthinfo@fightingblindness.ca

Frequently Asked Questions

How will COVID-19 affect my routine eye exam?
Currently, many eye care appointments, treatments and surgeries are being delayed or temporarily cancelled. Some reasons for appointment cancellations include:

  • Reduce the need to be in close contact with others
  • Reduce the use of resources (especially surgical resources) that may be needed to support the COVID-19 response (e.g. gloves, gowns, masks, personnel, hospital rooms)
  • Minimize the need for travel

What will happen if my routine eye exam or elective surgery is cancelled?
Right now, the focus is on managing the spread of COVID-19. If your appointment is not critical, it is okay to reschedule your appointment upon the direction of your doctor. Please give your doctor time over the next month to review your chart and plan for your follow-up.

Is it safe that my eye appointment was cancelled? Will cancelling my appointment affect my eyesight?
Your doctor does not want you to lose vision while you are waiting for your next appointment. If you develop any new or worsening symptoms, please call your doctor. If your doctor’s office is unable to address your concerns, consider going to the emergency room. Please remember that you may expose yourself to COVID-19 whenever you leave your home.

Remember to stay in contact with your eye doctor’s office to know when it is safe to rebook your appointment. It is important you keep track of your eye health and notify your doctor of any sudden changes if they occur.

What counts as an urgent appointment?
Your doctor will decide if your appointment is urgent based on your eye condition and health. Your doctor may choose to keep an appointment for some of the following reasons:

  • Urgent injections or lasers for some patients with age-related macular degeneration, diabetic macular edema, diabetic retinopathy or vein occlusions.
  • Retinal detachment
  • Urgent retinal tears
  • Cancer care involving the eye
  • Endophthalmitis (infection in the back of the eye)
  • Uncontrolled pressure in the eye
  • Uncontrolled inflammation of the eye

What if I have an eye emergency?
You should follow the same protocol for health emergencies. Call your doctor’s office to schedule an emergency appointment. You should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room if you have an emergency and cannot wait.

NOTE: Emergency rooms may be busier than normal because of the COVID-19 outbreak. If you are vulnerable to severe illness, call your local public health number before you go to the hospital.

If I get COVID-19, will my eyesight be affected?
COVID-19 is a form of coronavirus that causes respiratory symptoms (access detailed symptom information). Several cases of conjunctivitis (pink eye) have been reported.

NOTE: If you are experiencing any symptoms relating to COVID-19, call your local public health authority. If you experience any symptoms of sight loss, call your eye doctor’s office.

If my eye doctor keeps my appointment, what can I expect?
A visit to your eye doctor may look different in the coming months. Here are some things you may experience:

  • You may not be allowed to bring a support person to your visit. You may be screened for cold symptoms. If of you have symptoms, your appointment may be cancelled, or you may be required to wear a mask and sanitize your hands, or you may be given gloves. Remember: if you are wearing a mask, avoid unnecessarily touching the outside of the mask.
  • You may be asked to wait in your car until it is time for you to be examined.
  • In the waiting room, you may see fewer patients and be required to sit far apart. Staff may also be wearing masks and gloves.
  • In your appointment, you may see more protective shields around the slit lamp (called a breath shield). Your eye doctor may wear protective equipment including goggles, mask, gown, and gloves.
  • Please limit any unnecessary talking to prevent the transfer of small particles of saliva.
  • For the safety of your doctor and fellow patients, if you are experiencing a cough, fever, or shortness of breath, please postpone your appointment for 2-3 weeks.
  • Any travel from outside of Canada will force a 2 to 3-week period of self-isolation.

What can I do to protect my eyesight during this time?
Whether you have an eye disease or not, here are things you can do to protect your eye health:

  • Follow the guidelines from Health Canada to protect yourself and others.
  • If you require eye drops, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before you administer them.
  • If you are taking medication for your eyes, make sure you have enough medication to last you a 14-day period of isolation.
  • If you wear contact lenses, try use your glasses for the next little while. Contact lens wearers tend to touch their face and eyes more often, which can contribute to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

What if I am participating in a clinical trial? Is it still running?
Many resources are being directed to the frontline health workers. Many clinical trials have been halted for the time being, until a reassessment is possible. If you are currently participating in a clinical trial and you have not received information about the status, reach out to your trial coordinator.
If you have signed up for a clinical trial but have not yet started your treatment, it is possible your start date may be delayed. Check with your coordinator to find out more.

How long will this current situation last?
We are not sure how long this situation will last. The different levels of government are working very hard to prevent mass transmission of COVID-19 to keep Canadians healthy and support our healthcare system. Keep up to date with statements from our government.
For more information regarding the new protocols for eye health appointments, please visit the Canadian Ophthalmological Society’s website.

What if I get sick and need assistance?
The recommendation from Health Canada is if you become sick with COVID-19 but are not critically ill, you should stay home and self-isolate until your symptoms are completely gone. Here is more information. Go out only if you need medical attention. If you need to seek medical attention and don’t have transportation, call a taxi or your local public health to find out how to get to a medical centre. Some accessibility services will be affected in the next few months.

Where can I go for support?
CNIB has set up a calendar of virtual webinars to support the community in five areas: live, play, work, learn, and tech. Go to their website to learn more and sign up.

Tips to Help You Practice Social Distancing

  1. Do your grocery shopping online (many grocery stores are offering this option now) or select for store pickup to keep from going into the grocery store. NOTE: these options may take longer than normal.
  2. If you must go to the store, follow these guidelines:
    • Go during off hours to avoid large crowds.
    • Dress for the weather in case you must wait in a line up outside of the store.
    • Wear gloves while you shop, then wash them when you get home (or use disposable gloves).
    • Wear a scarf so you can easily shield your mouth and nose if someone is close to you.
    • When possible, leave your shopping bags outside the home and bring items in separately.
  3. Stock up (different from panic purchasing) on some essentials that could keep your household going for a little longer in between shops. For example,
    • Canned or dried beans
    • Canned fish
    • Canned or frozen vegetables
    • Dried grains (rice, pasta, quinoa)
    • Frozen meats
    • Evaporated milk or coconut milk (cans)
    • Essential household supplies (cleaning, toiletries)
  4. Get some essential supplies in case you or someone in your household were to get sick. Check out the recommended list from Health Canada.
  5. Ask your doctor to fill your prescriptions early to avoid frequent trips to the pharmacy.
  6. Listen to podcasts.
  7. Check out YouTube for guided exercise videos.
  8. Call friends (and attempt to keep COVID-19 off the topic list)
  9. Learn a new hobby (that doesn’t require many materials)

For information about the status of COVID-19 in Canada including your province and city, please refer to federal, provincial, and local government websites.

Helpful Links

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This article was written by Shari Shaw, MHSc., Health Information Officer at Fighting Blindness Canada and reviewed by Deepa Yoganathan, MD FRCSC.

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