Learn helpful information to manage glaucoma during the COVID-19 pandemic, including when to contact your eye doctor, and what to expect if you visit the doctor’s office or hospital.
The coronavirus pandemic has drastically altered the lives of citizens everywhere, and everyone is grappling with changes to employment, health, daily routines, and connection with other people.
Changes in Eye Care During COVID-19
Another change is access to outpatient clinics and surgeries such as those in ophthalmology, which has become restricted. Part of the reason for this is that patients and eye doctors are being asked to stay home and reduce our risk of both being exposed to the virus, as well as potentially exposing it to others if we are asymptomatic carriers. In addition, hospitals and the health care system are preparing for potential increases in patients requiring COVID-19 treatment, so elective surgeries are being delayed in order to preserve personal protective equipment and manpower(non-elective urgent surgeries including glaucoma surgeries are still being performed).
Your eye doctor and the field of ophthalmology are prioritizing patient eye safety and care during the pandemic, and this article will discuss some of the steps you can take to ensure the health of your eyes. Of course, the situation surrounding this global pandemic is also rapidly changing – so please be sure to check back for updates.
Glaucoma and COVID-19: The Good News
First, the good news: most forms of glaucoma are chronic and slowly progressing, so delaying your visit for a few months may not have a major impact if your glaucoma was stable prior to the pandemic.
Contact Your Eye Doctor If:
- You have acute angle-closure glaucoma
Of course, there are also more acute forms of glaucoma, in which rapid diagnosis and treatment are critical. For example, in acute angle-closure glaucoma, you may have eye pain and a red eye, headache, and nausea/vomiting. This should prompt a call to your ophthalmologist or directly going to the local emergency room.
- You have glaucoma that is not well controlled
It is also possible that your glaucoma was not under good control prior to the pandemic, and your ophthalmologist had scheduled follow-up visit for you fairly soon after your last appointment. Rest assured that ophthalmologists are available to take care of your eyes in the case of urgent or emergent situations.
As in any situation, the first step is to call your ophthalmologist’s office. If you are unable to reach anyone and it is not an emergency, locate the nearest university that has a Department of Ophthalmology (a google search for “Department of Ophthalmology” should identify ones that are close to you) and call for an appointment.
- You are receiving eye injections
While this article is focused on glaucoma, you should also call your ophthalmologist if you have macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy and have been getting regular eye injections, you notice new floaters or flashes in your vision, you suddenly lose some vision, or you see blurry, wavy spots in your vision.
- You are concerned about your glaucoma
If you are not experiencing an emergency, but you are concerned about your glaucoma during this time, you should call your ophthalmologist for advice. In addition to being available for phone calls, many eye doctors are also performing video visits, as in other fields of medicine.
For glaucoma patients, video visits are somewhat challenging because your eye pressure cannot be checked, and your optic nerve cannot be examined. However, a telephone call or video visit will allow your ophthalmologist to determine how urgently you need to be seen in the office.
In addition, some eye problems and issues can be resolved over a video visit, for example, a discussion of medication changes in case of intolerance to an eye drop or help with dry eye or allergy symptoms.
How Eye Clinics are Ensuring Safety During COVID-19
Clinics are taking steps to ensure your safety if you need to be seen in person. They will likely call you in advance or talk with you at the entrance to determine if you are experiencing respiratory symptoms including fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, or shortness of breath. In fact, all of the clinic staff will have been screened with the same questions to ensure that health care workers are safe to interact with patients.
They may ask you to wait in your car before coming in, and they may ask that your family member or friend wait for you in the car rather than coming into the clinic. Once inside the office, you should try to continue to practice physical distancing. Of course, this is difficult during the actual eye exam, when your ophthalmologist sits face to face with you. At some facilities, all staff will be wearing face masks, and you should try to wear one, even if homemade, given recent CDC recommendations.
To protect you and your eye doctor during the examination, there may be a protective shield added to the slit lamp machine used to examine your eyes and your eye doctor may wear a face shield. Your ophthalmologist may ask you not to speak during the eye exam, and instead wait to answer your questions after physical distancing, or even during a follow-up phone call.
The clinic may take steps to limit your contact with other staff and have you schedule appointments over the phone instead of checking out at the front desk. And of course, all clinics are taking steps to increase their disinfection protocols and using disposable single-use items in your care.
Steps You Can Take to Manage Your Glaucoma During COVID-19
Be sure to stock up on your eye drops, including asking for a three month prescription to limit trips to the drugstore and not waiting until the last minute to obtain a refill. Some insurers will cover three month supplies during extenuating circumstances such as this pandemic. Ask for help from your pharmacist or ophthalmologist if you have trouble gaining approval from your insurance company.
Be extra careful each time you put in your eye drops – wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before you put them in. After putting the eye drops in, close your eyes for 30 seconds, and dab your eyes with a clean tissue.
Avoid rubbing your eyes, and consider wearing glasses more often, including sunglasses outdoors. While glasses do not protect you 100%, they serve as a protective barrier and may also help remind you not to touch your eyes.
Rest assured that ophthalmologists and glaucoma specialists all around the country are actively identifying safe protocols for examining and testing patients once clinics re-open, performing research related to COVID-19 and the eyes, and determining best practices for glaucoma care. It is likely that your “routine” clinic visit and experience at your eye doctor’s office will change in the future in an effort to prioritize your eye care and safety.