How skipping an eye test almost cost my sight

How skipping an eye test almost cost my sight

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DON'T SKIP IT: Too many Australians are putting off their eye health appointments, leading to major vision problems. Photo: Shutterstock

DON'T SKIP IT: Too many Australians are putting off their eye health appointments, leading to major vision problems. Photo: Shutterstock

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There was no pain, just funny vision. In a few hours, I was having emergency eye surgery.

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MY morning started with a coffee, just like every other morning. I would have laughed if someone had told me I'd be undergoing emergency eye surgery by lunch time.

But that's what happened on Wednesday after I lost vision in my right eye. The cause - a torn retina. I had no pain; in fact, I just thought my glasses were dirty at first.

According to my eye surgeon, people like me with severe myopia - shortsightedness - have a significantly higher chance of developing retinal problems compared to those with normal vision.

Luckily, my retinal tear was only small so it could be fixed through laser surgery - a quick procedure with very minimal downtime. But, if left untreated, retinal tears can very quickly become full retinal detachment, which can lead to permanent blindness.

The crushing news was this all could have been avoided if I had visited my optometrist in April, when I was due for my two-yearly eye test. Instead, I put it off because I was "too busy".

It's why the Macular Disease Foundation Australia's latest push for Australians not to deter their eye tests really hits home.

"Any sudden changes in your vision - even without pain - could be an eye emergency. Deferring an eye appointment in those circumstances could cause irreversible vision loss," said the foundation's medical committee chair, Associate Professor Alex Hunyor.

"Many urgent, sight-threatening conditions - including wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic macular oedema (DMO) and retinal detachment - aren't painful.

"Similarly, if you are already receiving essential eye injections or laser treatment for wet AMD, DMO or treatment for any other eye condition, I strongly urge you to keep your scheduled appointment."

One in seven Australians over the age of 50 have signs of AMD, and the incidence increases with age. DMO is a complication of diabetic retinopathy, the most common cause of vision loss in working-age Australians. Everyone with diabetes is at risk.

Macular Degeneration Foundation chief executive Dee Hopkins said at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there was a worrying increase in the number of people cancelling essential appointments, in particular eye injection appointments.

"The anecdotal evidence is that people are once again cancelling sight-saving appointments as several states battle the virulent Delta strain," Ms Hopkins said.

"At one busy Sydney clinic on Monday, only 23 of 43 scheduled patients attended for their eye injections. If this is a barometer of what is happening more broadly, the implications are quite concerning.

"Call ahead. Ask what extra protocols are in place, and what precautions you can take.

"I want to stress: if you have a scheduled eye treatment, if you are a family carer, or someone who needs to take a person to a scheduled appointment, you are not breaching public health measures to attend that appointment.

"Obviously, if individuals have symptoms of the virus or have had contact with someone who has been infected, they should phone for medical advice, rather than leaving their home."

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