The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 brought about a lot of changes in all our lives. While it taught us the importance of hygiene and safe practices, and prioritising life over livelihood, it has also disrupted medical services and uptake severely. The three months of nationwide lockdown were the worst affected, with routine medical services completely jeopardized, and even emergency services being out of reach for many due to transportation problems. Over, the last four months, we un-locked and re-started our routine services; however, the Fear of the invisible virus has still prevented patients from coming for regular checkups.
Ophthalmology has been one of the worst affected fields. One study from Aravind eye hospital, Madurai reported that the number of outpatient department visits, retinal laser procedures, intravitreal injections and cataract surgeries during the lockdown period decreased by 96.5%, 96.5%, 98.7% and 99.7% respectively compared from the corresponding time last year. Since, eye diseases have not vanished miraculously, it is a grim reminder to the fact that patients are delaying their essential diagnosis and treatment, succumbing to the Fear, rather than overcoming it with adequate precautions. This fact was realized by us on a daily basis after unlock, as we started seeing more and more patients coming with advanced eye diseases, where even the best of treatment can only partially salvage the vision.
Certain eye diseases require urgent management. These include any trauma to the eye, chemical injuries to the eye, infections of the eye & sudden dimness of vision with or without pain. All of these conditions may require immediate medical and/ or surgical attention, which timely performed, may save the vision. Patients suffering from these should not delay visit to the ophthalmologist at all.
However, a number of ophthalmological diseases are silent in nature in the initial stages, and require regular screening to detect in the treatable stages. These include glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, two of the major causes of blindness in our country. Another cause of concern is undetected refractive power change in children, which may cause partial vision loss in them. Hence, for these diseases, it is imperative that routine eye screening be undertaken at regular intervals, even without any symptoms. The Aravind study also reported that children and women’s eye health have suffered the most during the present crisis.
Individuals with diabetes and glaucoma must get their routine checkup done every 6 months, or as advised by their ophthalmologist. Children who need glasses must also get their power checked every 6 months. Most importantly, and change in vision must be immediately notified. All institutes have restarted surgeries taking utmost aseptic measures; hence eye surgeries must not be postponed any more.
Vision is one of the most precious blessings given to us by the Almighty. To protect it is our duty. It is my earnest request to the readers to gather the courage to overcome the Fear of the virus, and start taking adequate precautions for their eye health.
[The Author of the article is Dr. Partha Biswas, Director, B B Eye Foundation, Kolkata and, Sneha Batra Associate Consultant, Trenetralaya, Kolkata]