Health experts warn to not avoid red eye medical assessment during COVID-19 outbreak

A decline in patients with eye conditions presenting for treatment has been observed

Red eye, Ophthalmology, COVID-19, Conjunctivitis, Prof Stephanie Watson

As many are shying away from hospitals and medical centres due to the fear of COVID-19, health experts are advising patients to seek medical attention before routine health issues deteriorate into more serious complications.

One of Australia's leading ophthalmologists, Prof Stephanie Watson, Sydney Eye Hospital, has observed a decline in patients with eye conditions presenting for treatment, as people may be fearful of attending clinics due to a perceived risk of COVID-19 infection.

"We know the risk of COVID-19 is front of mind for all Australians currently, but non-related illnesses and infections are not only common but can pose significant risks to the eye and vision in the absence of medical attention. The message from the health authorities is clear: if you have a medical condition needing attention, don't delay, seek treatment," said Professor Watson.

"For example, take conjunctivitis, the most common eye infection we see in Australia and an uncommon presentation of COVID-19 disease. While there might be a temptation to avoid treatment, if left untreated, there is a risk of impaired vision. Now is not the time to ignore medical attention for common eye problems."

Patients can receive free treatment from eye specialists in an ongoing clinical trial throughout Australia testing a novel therapeutic to treat adenoviral conjunctivitis. The RUBY trial, funded by Okogen, provides free treatment for adenoviral conjunctivitis as well as patient compensation for time and travel. It is accepting adult patients who are in the early stages of adenoviral ocular infections to evaluate its viral conjunctivitis treatment. It is accepting adult patients who are in the early stages of adenoviral ocular infections to evaluate its viral conjunctivitis treatment. Enrolled patients receive free treatment and four consultation visits with a specialist, as well as compensation for their travel and time.

Studiesindicated that conjunctivitis is an uncommon event with COVID-19. Conjunctival redness was present in a subset of patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, typically occurring in those with systemic symptoms.

In response, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) and the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) have issued advice to seek immediate medical attention if symptoms present.

Dr Brian M Strem, PhD, CEO of Okogen, a biotechnology company leading the development of novel ophthalmic anti-viral therapies, says even though viral conjunctivitis may seem like a minor irritant, it's always worth getting evaluated. "As only a small number of COVID-19 patients will show eye signs and symptoms, it's more likely patients with conjunctivitis symptoms are infected with adenovirus, not COVID-19. However, patients should seek appropriate medical attention in any case."