By Rebecca Horn
Eye health experts fear that “thousands of people will be left blind” as a result of missed appointments at UK eye clinics.
Researchers at the Macular Society expressed concerns that some people are at risk of losing their eyesight because they are too afraid to enter hospitals during the pandemic.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak in late 2019, eye clinics and hospitals have seen the number of new referrals drop by 70% and reported a high rate of missed appointments due to the pandemic.
According to the Macular Society, the number of patients receiving sight-saving treatment at UK eye clinics for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has declined by 25%. AMD is a common condition and the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK that generally affects people over the age of 55. 600,000 Britons are said to be currently suffering from AMD.
Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, said: “The earlier wet AMD is treated, the more effective the treatment is, so it is important if anyone notices any changes to their vision that they get it seen to as soon as possible.”
She added: “The number of people affected by macular disease is huge and it is a problem which is only getting worse even 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. 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.”
This comes after a survey from the eyesight charity, Fight for Sight, found that many people believe the pandemic has negatively impacted their visions. Out of 2000 respondents, half said their screen time has increased and a third (38%) of those believed their eyesight had worsened. Those who thought their eyesight has deteriorated during the pandemic reported difficulties in reading, as well as headaches and migraines and poorer night vision.
Business Administration student at Roehampton University, Melissa Marinkovic, 23 said: “My eyes have always been quite bad but since we have been in lockdown, I felt like my eyes have been affected even more. This is probably because of home-schooling, and just generally, I stare at my screen a lot more.
She added: “I finally got myself a pair of glasses because I kept getting a lot more eye twitches and my eyes were straining a lot from looking at my screen all day.”
David Crabb, Professor of Statistics and Vision Research at City University, London, said: “There is no physiological reason for people’s eye sight to worsen during the pandemic. The evidence that Covid affects vision is limited. Yet of course the lockdown has affected access to community optometrists and hospital eye services have suffered terribly.”
The current Government guidance allows for people to leave home to attend medical appointments and opticians continue to encourage those who experience any eyesight changes or problems to seek help immediately.