What You Need to Know
During the COVID-19 pandemic, if you have macular degeneration, you may have felt that you must choose between preserving your vision or maximizing your overall health and safety by avoiding a trip to your retina specialist for treatment.
You may have additional concerns, because many people with macular degeneration have other conditions — such as diabetes, smoking, extra weight, advanced age — that place them at greater risk of having serious COVID-19 complications. And a study published in August of 2020 indicated that macular degeneration patients are also among a group of people at higher risk of severe complications if they contract COVID-19.
Having these other conditions — known as comorbidities or underlying conditions — does not mean that you are at greater risk of getting infected, but at greater risk of developing serious complications if you become infected. Even if you become infected and have one of these underlying conditions you may not develop serious complications. Importantly, receiving a COVID-19 vaccination does not cause infection, and there is no evidence that having an underlying condition puts you at risk of a serious reaction to the vaccine.
In order to equip macular degeneration patients with the most authoritative information upon which to base their decisions (preferably in consultation with an eye care specialist), the American Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMDF) has worked with professional eye care organizations to survey doctors’ practices, patients’ experiences and recommended eye care guidelines during the pandemic.
To learn more about the COVID-19 protocols your eye care provider is likely to be observing, please see AMDF’s guide: Coronavirus and Your Macular Degeneration Care.
First and foremost, how do you determine when you should go in to the office to see your eye care doctor or specialist as opposed to postponing an appointment? As with all other things in the time of COVID-19, the best way to understand what eye care appointment you should keep is to assess whether it is essential or non-essential, bearing in mind that eye care practices, like all medical facilities, are maintaining stringent hygienic environments and enforcing social distancing.
Any sudden change in your vision constitutes a vision emergency, and you should contact your eye care specialist immediately. They will likely need to see you in the office. Delaying care in this situation could lead to irreversible vision loss. It is imperative that your doctor assess what caused your sudden change in vision so it can be treated right away and to avoid any unnecessary further damage.
Regularly scheduled anti-VEGF injections for the treatment of wet AMD are also essential, and you should plan to keep your appointment. If you and your retina specialist have been discussing a treat-and-extend protocol, which involves lengthening the period of time between injections, you may want to contact your retina specialist to explore rescheduling — but not entirely skipping — your treatment.
If you have dry macular degeneration and do not yet have vision loss symptoms, OR you have dry macular degeneration and are under an eye doctor’s care but your vision is stable, any in-office visit likely would be considered non-essential. DO NOT MAKE THIS DETERMINATION ON YOUR OWN. You should check with your eye doctor to make sure what you perceive as a non-essential visit can safely be postponed or changed to a telehealth visit where your doctor will meet with you by video or phone instead of in-person.
Many people want to limit leaving their home at all, or limit their potential exposure to the virus while outside of their home. We highly recommend following the CDC’s guidelines to help protect yourself from infection.
- Avoiding crowds
- Staying 6 feet apart from anyone who doesn’t live with you.
- Wearing a mask when around anyone outside of your household.
- Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water, and for at least 20 seconds.
- Daily cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces such as light switches, doorknobs, countertops, keyboards, phones, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
For more detailed information, visit the CDC’s page How to Protect Yourself and Others.
We also highly recommend the CDC’s guide to Improve How Your Mask Protects You.
The most important thing to remember is that you have a say in what makes you feel safe. You can always call ahead to your eye doctor or retina specialist and ask what safety precautions their office is taking. Let them know if you are in a higher risk group and ask if they have any further measures they have in place for higher risk patients.