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Covid pandemic results in sharp spike in mature cataract, dry eyes

According to eye surgeons at Dr Agarwals Eye Hospital, the elderly has been particularly impacted

The ongoing pandemic has led to increased severity and morbidity in eye conditions of people because of delayed treatment and lifestyle changes due to the pandemic, according to eye surgeons at Dr Agarwals Eye Hospital. The elderly people have been particularly impacted, with cases of mature cataracts going up as much as five times compared to the period before the pandemic. The incidence of severe dry eyes has also risen three times as people have been spending more time glued to digital screens.

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Says Dr Ram Mirlay, Regional Head – Clinical Services, Dr Agarwals Eye Hospital, Bengaluru, “During the last one year of the pandemic, patients have been worried about contracting coronavirus if they visited a hospital. Most people with pre-existing eye problems did not go for regular follow-ups during the lockdown and even afterwards, leading to aggravation of their condition. Others with newly developed eye problems waited to consult the doctors, which led to serious consequences, including loss of vision. In the last three months of 2019, before the pandemic had hit fully, just 10 per cent of all cataract patients coming to our hospital were suffering from mature cataract. In the last quarter of 2020, this figure jumped to 50 per cent, a five-fold increase.” 

Dr Mirlay added, “We have also noticed worsening of existing cases of glaucoma in many patients as they hesitated to come for regular follow-ups. People with diabetes ignored their period eye check-ups, leading to severe complications in their retina. Pandemic has had a huge socio-economic impact too. Many cataract patients coming to us are opting to get operated in only one eye, as they are running low on finances due to reduced income.” 

Says Dr Archana S, Regional Head – Clinical Services, Dr Agarwals Eye Hospital, Bengaluru, “Cases of severe dry eyes due to digital eye strain jumped from 10 per cent before the pandemic to 30 per cent now, as working from home led to a loss of work-life balance and people got habituated to looking at digital screens for long hours. Those working on digital screens blink much less than normal, and even the blinks are not fully complete. This, coupled with glare and flickering of screens, has led to a big spike in the incidence of digital eye strain and dry eyes. To give relief to the eyes, the rule is that for every 20 minutes of computer work, you should look away for 20 seconds to objects at least 20 feet away, or, better still, look out of the window.”

She added, “It is important for people to not neglect their eye problems in pandemic times. To begin with, tele-consult is a good option and, in many cases, should be enough to get the right advice. Sometimes the doctor will advise consulting in person. That is the time when not doing anything can aggravate a minor eye problem to a more serious one. Rather than delaying treatment, choose an eye hospital where all safety precautions are being implemented.”

According to Dr Mirlay, diabetic patients above 50 years need to get their eyes screened at least once a year by an ophthalmologist, as over 30 per cent of them go on to develop some form of diabetic eye disease, including vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy. Such patients should be extra careful in the pandemic time and do not hesitate to visit a hospital for regular check-ups. Any delay can create more severe complications, including loss of vision. This is true for glaucoma patients too. If their condition is unstable or they develop unusual symptoms such as eye pain or changes in vision, they should see the doctor immediately.” 

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