One of the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the disease itself of course, is the risk of neglecting other areas of our health.
When it comes to the health of our eyes there are a variety of conditions, some more serious than others, and it is important to know when you should visit a doctor, especially if you’re in a COVID-19 at-risk group and have been self-isolating.
We spoke to Mr Nick Koutroumanos, an ophthalmologist at St John and St Elizabeth Hospital, to find out about the more common eye conditions and what to do if you think you might be suffering from one of them.
Cataract is the opacification of our eyes’ lens which leads to faded colours, blurry or double vision and eventually loss of sight. It is one of the most common eye conditions – if you live long enough you will get a cataract.
In the context of the pandemic, cataracts are not too serious because in the majority of cases, one can postpone an operation without running the risk of irreversible damage. Generally speaking – but with exceptions – cataract surgery can be delayed if necessary.
A common exception is when an individual’s eyesight falls below the accepted DVLA standards and in this case surgery may be desired sooner than later to allow individuals to maintain their mobility and therefore their independence or livelihood.
This is a condition that is probably even more common than cataracts. You can have a temporary dry eye problem or it can be chronic. A proportion of Londoners have dry eye symptoms because of the pollutants in the atmosphere and our lifestyle choices. If you have
dry eyes then they can feel itchy, red, sore, gritty and, ironically, they can sometimes be more watery than normal.
In most cases having dry eyes, apart from being uncomfortable, isn’t too serious. Symptoms can be disproportionately severe and as such a consultation is a good idea, as it allows other more sinister eye problems to be ruled out. Eye drops, gels or creams are often employed as treatment and modifications to one’s activities can play a pivotal role in controlling dry eye disease, given that long hours on computer screens or the TV can accentuate the condition. Occasionally surgery on the tissues around the eye (periocular tissues) will be advised as a means of improving a dry eye syndrome.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD causes blurring or loss of sight in the middle part of your vision and is a leading cause of severe vision loss in those over the age of 60. It is important that this condition is monitored as it can often deteriorate over time. As it affects the older population, there is a large crossover with those who have been shielding during the pandemic. In this instance it is important to weigh up the risk of contracting Covid vs deterioration of AMD and this ought to be discussed with your ophthalmologist. I would say, at the very least, if you have been diagnosed with AMD you should ring the doctor’s office to get their advice on whether or not to go ahead with an upcoming appointment or operation. We are very keen that patients with a diagnosis of AMD are not lost from our radar.
Glaucoma is a progressive condition that affects the optic nerve – the structure which conveys information to the visual part of our brain. It is often associated with high eye pressure and as such pressure-reducing treatment is usually prescribed. Irreversible damage happens very slowly over a long period of time and is almost always non-symptomatic until late in the condition. A prompt diagnosis can lead to an excellent prognosis but a delayed presentation, or if glaucoma is left untreated for a substantial length of time, can lead to significant visual loss.
During the pandemic, patients with glaucoma are a worry to us because a lot of them are self-isolating and like with many non-symptomatic conditions, there is a risk of delayed presentations and reduced treatment compliance in those already diagnosed with glaucoma.
Cancer, wherever it is on the body, needs to be dealt with even if you are shielding. Though many eyelid lumps are of benign nature, for several reasons, skin cancer on the eyelids is common. If left untreated, certain periocular malignant tumours can spread into other tissues around your eye and to other parts of the body. If a new growth is seen, it is important to get it checked out and confirm it is not something serious.
Are you worried about your eye health and looking for a consultation? To learn more about our Eye Unit click here or to book an appointment call 0207 078 3848 or email firstname.lastname@example.org