10 Eye Conditions Treated in Telehealth Visits
Medical professionals started using telehealth (including virtual visits, videoconferencing, and remote monitoring) to diagnose and manage eye conditions even before the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily halted most in-person eye appointments. Technology allows opticians and ophthalmologists to extend vision and eye care to patients who live in rural areas or who lack transportation.
Telehealth can’t adequately address all eye problems. In-person visits are necessary for eye emergencies and optimal treatment of many conditions. Ask your eye doctor which telehealth eye care services might be appropriate for you. In most cases, a doctor can help you treat these 10 conditions remotely.
1Dry Eye Disease
Approximately 26 million Americans have dry eye disease, a medical condition that occurs when the body doesn’t produce sufficient tears to lubricate the eyes. Symptoms of dry eye disease include a burning or stinging sensation. The condition isn’t particularly harmful but can be uncomfortable.
Normally, a comprehensive in-person exam is the first step to appropriately diagnosing and treating dry eye disease. If you can’t get an in-person visit, a virtual visit may be an option. Some eye care professionals use telehealth visits to monitor patients’ symptoms and manage disease over time.
2Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Pink eye is an infection of the conjunctiva, the thin layer that lines the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids. Symptoms of pink eye include an itching or burning sensation, increased tear production, and eye discharge that may cause crusting of the eyelids, especially in the morning. Conjunctivitis is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Many cases will clear up without treatment, but doctors sometimes prescribe antibiotic ointment to treat pink eye.
Some cases of pink eye may be related to COVID-19. Your doctor may recommend testing for the novel coronavirus.
Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelids. It usually affects both eyes and is often a chronic condition. Symptoms include red, swollen eyelids; a gritty, burning or stinging sensation; crusted eyelashes; red eyes; light sensitivity; and blurred vision that improves with blinking.
If you develop any of these symptoms, an eye professional may be able to assess them via telemedicine. Eye professionals can also use telehealth to help patients control symptoms of chronic blepharitis.
A suddenly-appearing red spot on the white of your eye may be a subconjunctival hemorrhage—essentially, a harmless collection of blood that’s leaked from tiny blood vessels in the eye. Sneezing, coughing or straining can cause a subconjunctival hemorrhage. So can a blow to the eye.
If you (or a loved one) develops a red spot on the eye, it’s best to have it evaluated by an eye care professional. If you can’t get into the office for an exam, ask if videoconferencing is an option.
5Pinguecula and Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye)
Pinguecula and pterygium are degenerative growths on the eye’s conjunctiva, the moist membrane that covers the inside of the eyelids and whites of the eyes. They result from UV damage from lifelong sun exposure. They may appear as yellow or fleshy raised growths; in some cases, pinguecula and pterygium may interfere with vision. The growth may cause discomfort and swelling.
An eye care professional may be able to diagnose pinguecula and pterygium via videoconferencing or email with photos of your eye. If the growths are causing discomfort and you can’t get into the office, the professional may be able to prescribe steroid eye drops to ease symptoms.
A full eye exam—including assessment of your visual acuity and the structures of your eye—is recommended yearly. These exams allow eye care professionals to diagnose and treat many health conditions (including glaucoma and macular degeneration) before they cause serious damage.
If you’re noticing changes in your vision, though, and can’t get an in-person appointment, a telehealth visit is an option. Some providers now offer online vision exams and can renew, issue or change eyeglass or contact prescriptions via telemedicine.
A swollen bump on the eyelid may look alarming. Most of the time, however, it’s not serious. A chalazion is simply an eyelid bump that occurs when an eyelid’s oil gland clogs up. It’s usually not painful but can cause redness, swelling and, rarely, blurry vision.
Telehealth via videoconferencing allows patients to share images with eye care professionals in real time. If you (or a loved one) develops a bump on the eyelid or other unusual eye symptoms, call your eye care professional and ask if a virtual visit is an option.
Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness. It’s also quite preventable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes-related eye disease is 90% effective in preventing blindness.”
People who have diabetes should undergo a comprehensive, in-person dilated eye exam at least once a year. Unfortunately, many people don’t have access to an eye care clinic. Some communities use telehealth to screen diabetic patients during primary care visits; images obtained via special retinal cameras are then transmitted to eye experts for evaluation.
Glaucoma is usually characterized by high pressure inside the eye. It is a leading cause of blindness in people older than 60. Comprehensive in-person eye exams can detect glaucoma in its early stages, allowing treatment to slow progression of the disease. Treatment aims to decrease pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure).
Some eye care professionals use remote monitoring to check patients’ eye pressure in between visits. The Food and Drug Administration has approved at least one handheld intraocular pressure home monitoring device.
Macular degeneration is a leading cause of severe, permanent vision loss. It is more common in older adults than young adults. Symptoms include blurry vision and dark or blurred areas in the center of the visual field.
Eye care professionals use the Amsler Grid test to assess visual symptoms of macular degeneration over time. The test features a checkerboard grid of intersecting vertical and horizontal lines; one eye at a time, patients are asked if any of the lines look wavy or distorted, or if any parts of the grid seem to be missing. The Amsler test can be offered digitally.