Newswise — CHICAGO (April 6, 2020) – Americans in many states across the country have been ordered to stay at home or shelter in place, mitigation efforts sorely needed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But orders that encourage social distancing do not prohibit patients from essential medical visits, such as seeing a retina specialist for treatments that can preserve vision. People with retinal conditions and those experiencing new signs of a retinal disease, such as loss of vision or flashers or floaters, should contact their retina specialist to determine the best course of action.
“The health and safety of our patients is our number one priority every day – pandemic or no pandemic,” said Timothy G. Murray, MD, MBA, president of the American Society of Retina Specialists. “Many of my patients have told me they need to cancel a critical appointment because of stay-at-home orders. But the fact is, medical visits are allowed and can mean the difference between keeping or losing vision for people who need sight-saving treatments or emergency care from a retina specialist.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, retina specialists are seeing patients for visits considered “essential” including:
- Emergency visits for conditions such as a retinal detachment.
- Treatments critical to saving or preserving sight including eye injections, also known as intravitreal injection therapy, for conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy and retinal vein occlusion.
- Follow-up care for patients who recently had eye surgery.
- Treatment for active infectious or inflammatory eye diseases.
- Screenings for patients experiencing sudden changes in vision including floaters, flashes, or loss of vision.
Patients should contact their retina specialist to determine if their in-person visits should continue. Prior to an appointment, patients will be asked if they or anyone they’ve been near have symptoms of a viral infection including fever, cough or shortness of breath or if they have traveled outside of the state or come into contact with a person infected with COVID‐19 in the past two weeks. Patients at a higher risk for COVID-19 infection may be seen in a hospital setting rather than at the retina specialists’ office for enhanced safety.
Retina specialists are following strict infection control measures to keep visits safe such as limiting the number of patients in the waiting room; wearing additional personal protective equipment (PPE) as needed such as eye protection, face masks and face shields; and keeping appointments as short as possible while providing needed examinations and treatments.
In addition to reaching out to their retina specialist about their care plan, patients should also ask about recommendations for changes to their current eyecare routine. Contact lens wearers may be encouraged to switch to glasses since those who wear glasses tend to touch their eyes less often. Also wearing glasses may protect against foreign material, including COVID-19 virus droplets, entering the eye. It is also important for patients to stock up on any eye medicine prescriptions and over-the-counter supplies they might need.
“Many patients are understandably leery of leaving home right now. But the risk of losing vision because of delayed treatment should far outweigh any anxiety they might have about coming to the office for a critical medical visit with their retina specialist,” Dr. Murray said. “It’s up to all Americans to flatten the curve of the pandemic, while at the same time remaining vigilant about caring for and maintaining their sight.”
Additional COVID-19 guidance for patients is available at: bit.ly/2UIIe6C.
The American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) is the largest retinal organization in the world, representing more than 3,000 members in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 63 countries. Retina specialists are board-certified ophthalmologists who have completed fellowship training in the medical and surgical treatment of retinal diseases. The mission of the ASRS is to provide a collegial and open forum for education, to advance the understanding and treatment of vitreoretinal diseases, and to enhance the ability of its members to provide the highest quality of patient care. Learn more at ASRS.org.