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COVID-19, vision research and eye health

Physical distancing is not stopping CERA scientists from continuing critical research to discover better treatments to prevent vision loss and restore sight.

Managing Director Professor Keith Martin says most of our scientists are now continuing their research remotely – and coming up with novel solutions to keep their investigations on track at new locations.

“Even though we are not all together in the clinic or lab, we are still working towards our common goal of discovering better ways to diagnose, prevent and treat vision loss and, ultimately, find cures that will restore lost sight,’’ he says.

However, our team at the Clinical Trials Research Centre, which has recently relocated back to the main hospital building at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in East Melbourne, is working on-site providing continuity of care for trial participants.

Clinical trials continuity

“The Clinical Trials Research Centre is continuing to treat patients with conditions including diabetic macular oedema, wet age-related macular degeneration, uveitis, corneal disease and glaucoma,’’ says Professor Martin.

“We have temporarily stopped recruiting patients for new clinical trials – but are providing important continuity for patients who are receiving critical sight-saving treatment as part of existing trials.

“Face-to-face visits in our Macular Research Unit have been deferred for now.

“Trial coordinators from our macular team are in touch with their trial participants about upcoming appointments and are available to answer any queries patients have over the phone.

“However, the team’s critical work to find better treatments, and a cure, for AMD is continuing.

Senior woman having an eye test

Face-to-face visits for macular research have been deferred.

“Our macular researchers are now working from home, analysing images and data collected from patient visits to gather more evidence about what causes AMD.

“Other research teams are analysing results from laboratory-based experiments, developing algorithms for artificial intelligence diagnostic tools, creating new tele-medicine tools to monitor eye health, or building and testing innovative imaging devices.’’

Taking care of your eye health

Professor Martin says that even though routines have changed because of COVID-19 physical distancing rules, older people and those with conditions like diabetes should continue to keep an eye on their vision at home.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a difficult time for all of us, but it is still important to keep looking after your eyes,’’ he says.

“Although many ophthalmologists and optometrists have deferred routine appointments, visits for sight-saving treatments like injections for age-related macular degeneration or diabetic eye diseases are considered essential.

“Anyone who experiences a sudden change in their vision or is concerned about their sight should contact their regular optometrist or ophthalmologist.’’

Professor Martin, a glaucoma specialist, and some of CERA’s other eye research experts offered the following eye health tips during the COVID-19 crisis.

Glaucoma

“If you have glaucoma, your routine appointment with your eye specialist may have been deferred but you shouldn’t be concerned about this,’’ says Professor Martin.

“It’s very important that  you keep using your regular eye drops as prescribed by your ophthalmologist until your next appointment. You don’t need to worry if you run out of drops before your next appointment as your pharmacist can provide up to one month’s supply of your regular prescription.’’

Age-related macular degeneration

“If you are receiving regular eye injections for AMD, it is important that you attend these as determined by your ophthalmologist if you can,’’ says Professor Robyn Guymer AM, ophthalmologist and Head of CERA’s Macular Research Unit.

“These appointments are considered essential medical treatments and you can take along a support person if you need to.

“Eye clinics are adhering to physical distancing measures, minimising time spent in the waiting room and using personal protective equipment to safeguard patients during their clinic visits.

“While you are at home staying safe from COVID-19 you should continue to monitor your eye health.

“You should still look at your Amsler Grid once a week and if there is distortion or blur and it’s persistent, contact your regular optometrist or ophthalmologist.’’

People with diabetes

Associate Professor Peter van Wijngaarden, CERA Deputy Director and Clinical Director of the KeepSight Program, says regular eye checks are important for people with diabetes.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, most routine eye checks for people with diabetes can be safely deferred,’’ he says.

“However, if you have existing eye damage or disease, or usually have check-ups more than every six months, you should phone your eye care provider to clarify when you should see them again.

“If you are having laser treatments or injections you should contact your ophthalmologist to discuss your treatment, as in some cases interruption of treatment can lead to vision loss.

“And anyone with diabetes who has sudden changes in vision should treat it as an emergency and contact their optometrist or ophthalmologist for advice.”

Eye health resources

The following free resources give you more information about keeping your eyes healthy and the latest research at CERA.

Healthy Ageing Eyes guide

Get to Know Glaucoma guide

Amsler grid


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