Australian icon Ita Buttrose has issued a passionate plea to senior Australians in a bid to avoid thousands of people going unnecessarily blind during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have an important message for our older and more vulnerable Australians living with macular disease, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia,” Ms Buttrose said.
Macular disease covers a range of conditions that affect the central retina (the macula) at the back of the eye. The most common are age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and diabetic retinopathy (DR), including diabetic macular edema (DME).
AMD accounts for 50% of blindness in Australia with one in seven Australians (approximately 1.29 million) over the age of 50 having some evidence of AMD.
“I’m concerned many people who need urgent, sight-saving eye injections for diseases like wet (neovascular) AMD and diabetic macular edema are not keeping their appointments with their ophthalmologists because of fear and confusion around public health protocols.
“Missing an eye injection can seriously and permanently compromise your vision. You must not miss your sight-saving treatment,” she said.
Macular Month Message
Ita Buttrose has been Patron of Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) for 15 years. She has a family history of AMD, with her father Charles and two of his siblings losing their sight to AMD. Thankfully, Ita’s uncle Gerald Buttrose, has retained his sight due to having regular eye injections for his wet AMD. He is now 96.
In May, during MDFA’s Macula Month, Ita Buttrose advocates for Australians over the age of 50 to see an optometrist for an eye examination, including a check of the macula.
“In a COVID-19 environment, our call to action is even more vital if we are to avoid thousands of people going unnecessarily blind on the other side of this pandemic,” warned Ms Buttrose.
“If you require injections for wet (neovascular) AMD or diabetic macular edema, or other macular conditions, it is essential that you attend your specialist appointment or discuss your treatment options with your ophthalmologist.
“Similarly, if you notice any sudden changes in your vision, or experience eye pain – even if you don’t have a diagnosed eye condition – it could be an eye emergency. It is vitally important that you contact your optometrist or ophthalmologist as soon as possible,” Ms Buttrose said.
Covid Fear Causes Cancellations
Despite reassurances from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) that eye injections are an essential treatment, ophthalmologists around Australia have seen a dramatic increase in the number of patients cancelling essential eye appointments.
“I understand that some people might be concerned about leaving their homes to get treatments,” Ms Buttrose said, “but I can assure everyone that clinics are sterile environments and stringent clinical guidelines have been put in place to ensure people’s safety.”
“Whether you are at home or living in aged care, these eye injections are vitally important to preserving sight.
“Many of you have lived through times of hardship, through wars, depressions, and times of national insecurity and anxiety. Once again, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves in an unexpected time of uncertainty, where clarity of communication and correct information is paramount.
Keep Scheduled Eye Injections
“I want to stress if you have a scheduled eye injection, if you are a family carer or someone who needs to take a person to a scheduled eye injection, and you have not been in contact with COVID-19, you are not breaching public health measures to attend that appointment. Obviously, if you are unwell, please phone first for advice.
“I understand people are apprehensive but keeping your sight must be your priority,” she said.
If you need advice about your eye health or want a free Amsler grid to monitor vision changes at home contact MDFA’s National Helpline on 1800 111 709 or your ophthalmologist or local Eyecare Plus Optometrist.